The Gates Are Open


The Three-Fold Mental Test for Anxious and Depressed Thoughts

Posted on June 5, 2017

If you’ve been in my counseling office for any length of time, you’ve heard me explain the “Three-Fold Test”. For those who haven’t heard it, let me give it to you and then spend the rest of this article explaining its significance.

With any bothersome thought pattern, a three-step test will guide you to determine whether you want to spend any more time considering that thought. This test goes like this. (Note: If the thought pattern fails at any point in the test, you immediately stop and move onto a different focus for your thoughts). These are ranked in order of most common to least common. This means, most people’s bothersome thoughts will fail the first test, the second most will fail the second test, and the third most will fail the third test. Hence, this is the order you consider them.

No more explanation; here is the test.

  1. Do I have any control over this thing I am spending time thinking about? If you don’t have any control over it, change your focus to something else.
  2. If I do have control over this thing I’m thinking about, am I responsible for this thing? If you don’t have any responsibility for it, change your focus to something else.
  3. If I do have control over this, and I am at least partially responsible, do I have time right now to do anything about it? If you don’t, then schedule a time to take care of it, and move on to another focus.

For those who are wondering, I did develop this test about 15 years ago, but the concepts are not original with me. I am sure I borrowed these concepts from many sources, but I can name two very quickly if you want to study more of the background. First, I gleaned the overall concept from Dr. William Glasser, the founder of the Choice Theory/Reality Therapy school. The concept of working this through like a series of filters I got from Dr. Ed Smith, the founder of the Transformation Prayer therapy method. Read any of their books and you’ll see how their models became the basis for this test.

To show the importance of using this test frequently, I must explain some of the underlying presuppositions to strengthen your resolve to use it. There are several of these and I will try to be brief in explaining them.

First, let’s address the overall concept of choice. For roughly 50 years, psychology got mired in the idea that we are simply the product of our biology and that this prevents us from getting rid of anxiety and depression. This Behaviorist model assumed that you were “wired” a particular way and nothing could change that. Even though we describe everything else we do in life as a verb—that is, we learn, we love, we hate, we eat, we watch a movie, we travel, we hit someone, we voice our opinions, etc.—we describe our most troublesome thoughts as a noun. We don’t say “I am depressing myself”, we say “I have depression.” We don’t say “I am anxieting” we say, “I have anxiety”. We find it easier to see our depression and anxiety as things outside of us over which we have little control.

Dr. Glasser proposed in 1968 for the first time that other than a few hormonal situations and traumatic brain injury, most people choose to depress themselves. They do this for the most part to deal with anger. He also noticed people choose to anxiety, for the most part to deal with fear. His assumption was that if we can choose something, we can choose something else.

But he also noted, most of us will not. Depressing and anxieting produce things we want in our lives, even if we don’t want the results that come from depressing and anxieting. We want to worry. Yes we do. We want to anticipate what is coming so we can be ready for it or be prepared in some way. To do this, we anxiety.

Therefore, the focus of anxiety or depression is often on things we cannot control. This comes into play in a moment.

Next, it is important to know what we actually do control in life. Get ready for this list. The only things we control can be boiled down to three things:

  1. We control what we will focus on next.
  2. We control what action we will take next
  3. We control whatever other people allow us to control.

You do not control the past. We cannot change it, so we do not control it. Any time spent looking at the past with a focus on regret, shame, bitterness, revenge, blame, or fear is useless. The only focus on the past which yields results is how it affects the present. If you look back to learn or to process past beliefs, you can find good results.

You do not control the future. That is an illusion. Your planning does not control the future, it simply places you where you think you need to be. But we forget how many thousands of times we planned and we were wrong. Any time spent on worrying or depressing about the future is wasted thought.

You cannot control other people unless they allow you to. And the problem with controlling other people is that you become responsible for them. This is the basis of all co-dependency, but that’s another article.

Most people who depress themselves or anxiety themselves are convinced they cannot really control their own thoughts. But Dr. Glasser and many others in the Brain Plasticity movement (i.e. Daniel Amen, Norman Doidge, etc.) have shown in countless studies this is not true. What is true is we have convinced ourselves we cannot control our thoughts because we don’t really want to. As badly as it feels to depress ourselves, it is our choice and we are doing it for a reason. We think we can control things which we actually can’t control. The same is true with anxiety.

This is where the three-fold test comes in. Here is a short commentary on each step so you can see why they are important questions.


  1. “Do I have control over this thing I am spending time thinking about?” If you are thinking about the past or the future, you are putting mental energy into something which you can never change. Even if you believe you can, you cannot. Come to grips with that and leave it behind. Stop telling yourself you have no control over these thoughts. They are actually one of the only things in life you do have control over. For instance, I spent years thinking about how people reacted to some of the things I teach. When I applied this test to that thought pattern I realized I could not control their reactions, nor their attitude toward me, nor their choices for how they would treat me. Therefore, focusing for a second on how they would think about my teaching was useless. What I did control is whether what I taught was accurate and helpful. When I started to focus my thoughts on those things, I started to live more healthy.
  2. “Am I at least partially responsible for what I am spending time thinking about?” In life, there are many actions we can take to work with others. At any given moment, there are millions of things any of us can be doing. But we know deep inside we don’t have the time or energy to do more than a few things each day. Therefore, if we want our lives to matter, then we will do those things which mean the most to us. The healthiest actions we can take are ones which acknowledge and follow commitments we have made. For instance, it is proper for a parent to help a child make their lunch in the morning before school starts. This is especially true if the child doesn’t know how to do it. But as the child gets older, the parent needs to withdraw their help slowly so the child will take responsibility. On the other hand, if you are married to a drug addict, you often feel that need to worry and act in such a way as to prevent them from using. The problem is, their addiction, though it affects you, is their problem not yours. If you spend too much time focused on what you will do for them in it, you are taking responsibility for things both outside of your sphere of responsibility and control.
  3. “Can I take care of this responsibility right now?” Much worrying is done because we want to solve situations which haven’t happened yet. We don’t like to be caught off-guard, so we worry a future situation out until we have solved every possible thing which can go wrong. But we haven’t really solved anything. Think of a basketball team. They can plan how they will play the other team, but all the decisions have to be made at real speed in the game. If you have responsibilities which are coming up but haven’t happened, only focus on the principles, not the actual working out of the responsibility. All other mental effort is wasted.


Most people don’t think the test will work because they have chosen anxieting and depressing as solutions to their unsolvable problems. But, as I tell all my clients, if you apply this test each and every time in place of anxieting and depressing, you will take control of your thoughts again, and you will accomplish what you are setting out in life to achieve.

You May Never Get It Back

Posted on June 13, 2016
gone foreverTrigger Alert. Trigger Alert. Trigger Alert.
Someone will be triggered by just about every line in this short essay. It is designed that way. Don’t read on if you have made a vow to never be triggered by anything again.
I teach, counsel others, and write. I see the mucky, degraded side of people’s lives often. I occasionally get to see beauty too. And I know the God of Creation who loves me and others. But I still see muck.
During this last week, I have witnessed three dead marriages. I don’t mean divorce, I mean people who are still married and hate each other. One couple gives each other permission to cheat because they don’t give a crap any more. I heard about a child who was sexually groomed and controlled by a youth pastor. His church–my church–hid this reality from the public for years. I read, with you, about the massacre of people in a night club. I helped a friend prepare a funeral for a teenager. I talked a person out of running away from their spouse and children. But the voices inside their head won’t stop saying “run away”. I sat with two alcoholics who had tried to be sober and couldn’t do it. I spoke with a woman who kicked her sister out of the house for using meth for the 1,000th time. She loves her and hates her.
Should I go on, or are you depressed enough?
I want to speak to those who believe in Creator God for a moment. I believe God will remake this earth and give us a Forever Life that is mind-exploding. I know Jesus will never leave me. I am certain I am forgiven, loved and accepted because of what Jesus did for me.
But I also know this doesn’t change the things I’ve lost–or what you’ve lost. Some of those things are never coming back. Think about this. Did Job really get everything back at the end of the book? Yes, he was eventually blessed with twice as many possessions as he had before, but they weren’t the same possessions. It was now a different house. And knowing how his wife responded, it may have been a much different marriage than he had before. And certainly, his children didn’t come back. His dead children stayed dead. And though we are told the daughters of Job were the most beautiful in the land, the memory of his dead children would never have left him. There probably wasn’t a day that he didn’t long to hold one or more of them.
Don’t you see? Even though we have hope going forward, there are things that are gone forever. There are people we will never see again in this life. There are dead marriages that cannot come back to life. You can claim all the promises in the Word of God you want, but it won’t happen. I can assure you. That friend will probably never apologize to you. That lost opportunity is never coming back. You can’t go back in time and have dad un-abuse you. There are no “born-again virgins”. That ship has sailed. You can’t un-see the time dad hit your mother. You can’t un-remember the time Mom called you the filthiest name any human has called you. You can’t change the person you killed with your car after a night of drinking with your sorority sisters. Those things are gone.
If you walked out the door and abandoned your children, even if you go back, it will never be the same. If your laziness meant you could never go to college because you punted every year in high school, there is no going back and fixing that. You can apologize for sins and mistakes–and you should–but it won’t change them.
People have robbed our joy, lived their selfish goals out at our expense, crapped on our dreams, ruined our plans, lied to us, hurt us, mangled us, taken our possessions. And we will never get any of that back. Even the parents whose stolen children miraculously come back to them realize they didn’t actually get their children back. They find a sad facsimile of those kids, who spend all their lives trying to heal.
Why is all this important? If you’re not getting these things back, why are you holding onto them so tightly? What would happen if you let go of needing those things? The answer to that question is the answer to the rest of your life.
Jesus said it clearly, “He who seeks to preserve his life will lose it. The one who abandons his life will find it eternally”. What he means is this: If you pine away for all the lost things, you will never live today. If you have a bonfire of memories and throw in all the things you can’t have back, all of a sudden you begin to live again.”
Remember Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle?” He wasn’t living on that houseboat. He was simply existing. Even his 10 year old son knew that.
What would happen if today you let go of that which you can never get back? What would happen? If you have a gut answer to that question, then ask God for his perspective on it. God’s answer will set you free.
But for all of the garbage you have had to endure, you will never get those days and things back. You just won’t.

Life Situations Made More Effective with a Coach

Labels can often be confusing…but they can also be enlightening and helpful. When we’re talking about allowing other people to guide us through difficult times in life, it is helpful to know the various labels we put on these helpers.

When you have reached certain milestones, crises, or significant change points in life, one or all of the following helping professionals can lend assistance:

  1. Counselor. The role of a counselor is to help a client discover the motivations and beliefs behind certain behaviors. This may include such varied experiences such as depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, manic behavior, substance abuse and many other manifestations. The counselor’s role is to help the individual discover where they need answers.
  2. Therapist. Though the counselor may also be a therapist, this is a different role in a person’s life. Certain problems need a structured healing regimen. For instance, a counselor may be able to help the client identify their use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. But for some people, their alcohol dependency may be so intense that it will take certain therapies to bring change. A therapist usually specializes in certain techniques to bring healing to specific emotional ailments.
  3. Mentor. For many of the life change points people encounter, the best professional is often a Mentor. The mentor comes from a position of expertise. To properly mentor another person, they must have working knowledge of the field they are guiding the other person into. A mentor does need to be able to explain and demonstrate how the client can progress in a chosen field of endeavor.
  4. Coach. Here we come to the heart of this article. The coach is not a counselor per se. They are not necessarily looking at weaknesses, behaviors and motivations. Instead, they are looking ahead at the future, helping the client set goals and reach them. They help the client understand the obstacles in the way. The coach is not a therapist. They do not remove the barriers in the way. But once the barrier has been identified, they could direct the client to a therapist if that is the primary solution. A coach is not a mentor necessarily. They do not need to have a working knowledge of the field the client wants to work in. But their job is to help the client get the resources needed and holds the client accountable to working the necessary steps to get there.In essence, a coach is a person who helps someone to evaluate what changes need to be done and helps their client fashion a path to arrive at those changes.


In our lives, there are times we may need all of the above Helpers. But there are specific moments when having a Life Coach is the appropriate choice. Let me outline six of these moments.

  1. Career Change:  This may seem like the most obvious one, but it is amazing how few people go to a Coach at this moment in their lives. Instead, they often visit a counselor or a mentor to help them determine the next move in life. A counselor is going to delve into the emotional implications of a change. The mentor is going to direct the client into a limited number of fields related to their expertise. But a coach can make a huge difference to a person changing careers. The coach may even be the right person to help you decide if you need a career change. Sometimes, what is needed is a change in approach to the current job. The coach’s strength is assessment. Using tools of their trade, they can help the client dig deeper into their successes and failures, and from that analysis, discover how the future may be more rewarding and successful. The coach can guide the client to discover a path to a new career, to lay out the steps to reach that path, to hold them accountable for all the steps, and to fashion answers for the obstacles in the way.
  2. Educational Goal:  Coaches are the right choice for those who are looking at furthering their education. This may apply to the High School student, the person changing careers, the Empty Nester, the newly divorced or the under-educated professional. Though it is not the coach’s job to ever make decisions for the person, they can point the client in the most effective places to look for their chosen path of study. Once a path is chosen, the coach can then help with setting the kind of standards which will help the student achieve the grades they need to complete the course of study.
  3. Times of Failure/Frustration/Feeling Stuck:  It is often said the only difference between successful people and people who fail is that the successful ones learned from their failures. That adage does not explain how these people learn from their mistakes. Many of them grow through failure because they have an objective coach who can ask the sort of questions necessary to pull out of the shame most often associated with failure. The role of a coach in this stage in life is to ask the hard questions the client may not thought of asking. Shame has a way of clouding a person’s mind, preventing them from being objective about what happened. This is especially true when a person finishes up a nasty divorce. Though most people will see a counselor during and after a divorce–and rightfully so–a coach may also be helpful. The coach can use tools to evaluate what happened and what each part of the failure means. Then, once the client discovers the true meaning behind the failure, the coach and client can develop a model to achieve success in a similar situation in the future. This is what every sports coach does. After every game where a team loses, the coach’s job is to analyze what was done poorly. The purpose is not to condemn, but to change and modify the situation so next time they will have success.
  4. Coaching Toward Self-Awareness:  Using tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC, Strong Inventory and IDAK, a coach can help the client better understand their own personality, strengths, learning style, conflict management style, potential weaknesses, blind spots and comfort zones. When a person is self-aware, they are able to relate better to others, making their future careers and relationships more rewarding. The role of a coach here is to analyze and inform.
  5. Relationship Coaching:  Some marriages, dating relationships, and friendships do not really need a counselor. The problems are often the result of mutually shared obstacles. In relationship coaching, the coach helps the couple identify the problem, discover the path to the solution, and lay out the steps necessary to complete the journey. Many couples in crisis with each other would be better served taking this coaching approach rather than relationship counseling.
  6. Spiritual Coaching:  Older denominations actually have a name for this kind of coach: Spiritual Director. This is a very specific application of coaching where the client and the coach determine what spiritual goal a person wants to achieve. Then they work out together which spiritual disciplines and habits will reach that goal. The coach does not determine these things, but they hold the client accountable and ask the type of questions that will force the client to dig deeper into God.


Generally counselors and therapists cost between $60-$150/hour. A mentor can range in cost but can cost up to $100 per hour. The advantage to using a Life Coach is that their fees regular run from $25-$50/hour, much more affordable than the other alternatives. However, the Coach also does not provide therapy or specific knowledge like some of the other helping professionals.

If you see a need in your current situation for a Life Coach, contact me at and we’ll figure out the best approach to get started.

The Blind Man’s Elephant: Over-examination of Kim Davis

elephant-parableAn old Indian proverb tells the story of six blind men examining an elephant. One touches the elephant’s ear and tells the others this animal is “like a fan”. Another man touches the trunk and concludes, “no, it is just like a snake.” A third blind man examines the tusk and tells them the elephant feels like a spear. The man who touches its leg concludes it is like a tree, the man who grasps the tail says a rope and the one who feels the belly concludes the elephant is like a wall.

This story has long illustrated the difficulty of relating the Truth you understand to others. All of us have limited perspectives and all of us communicate those perspectives from our own limited experience. All of these men are right in what they observe, and all are wrong when they say their conclusion is the entirety of what an elephant is.

This is the difficulty of many things modern society argues about. It might be a Muslim boy bringing a homemade clock to school, a police officer shooting a teen at a suburban party, a military hostage who might have deserted, a President’s birth certificate or Donald Trump’s hair. Everyone has a perspective on all these things and depending on which angle you are viewing these issues from, the results will differ greatly.

I’m not telling you anything new. But allow me to show how important it is to reserve judgment until you  have taken time to examine all the facts and opinions.

In this case, I want to use the Blind Men’s Elephant story to re-examine an already well-hashed-over issue: That of Kim Davis the county clerk from Kentucky. Here is essentially what happened. The Supreme Court declared that gay marriage is legal. Kim Davis is an elected official whose signature needs to be on all marriage certificates. She refuses to sign the certificate for same-sex couples in her office. The courts order her to fulfill her duty as the County Clerk. She refuses to sign them, citing only her Christian belief in marriage as between a man and a woman as the grounds for her refusal. As a result, she is thrown in jail..

Several days later, she was released from jail and told to do her job or allow her co-workers to do her job.  She agreed to allow her deputies to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as her name is not on any of them. For the moment, this ends the most dramatic part of the story, though I’m sure comedians and political pundits will continue to make hay with this issue.

I am bringing it up for a completely different reason than most people. In order to get to my point, let me look at some of the Blind Men viewpoints that have been expressed about Kim Davis.

First, Kim Davis’ viewpoint. Here it is in her words, given through her attorney last week:

In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.

I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.  It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

She claims that this is a Heaven and Hell issue for her. (She never clarifies this, not noting whether she means the couples she would be marrying are going to hell or that she would go to hell if she issued the licenses). In her mind the issue is simple: If she issues the license, she is violating a “central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage“.

There are some who agree with her viewpoint on marriage who point out that she could have just resigned her post and it would have accomplished the same thing. She claimed that would have been a slap in the face of those who elected her. Please note: She could not be fired since she was elected, not hired.

This is Kim Davis and her perspective. Obviously, the same-sex couples wanting to receive a marriage license from her see her differently. They see her as a religious bigot who tries to prevent them from doing what they are legally allowed to do. Their position is just as clear as Kim Davis’ position in the matter. Few people can misunderstand either Kim Davis or the couples wanting to have their marriage recognized, regardless of which of these you agree with.

Enter, everyone else! The rest of us observe all of this and have our own slant on it.

First, there are the preachers, teachers and religious leaders of various denominations. To them, Kim Davis becomes a symbol. For the preachers who believe gay marriage is a violation of the Bible, Kim Davis is their spokesperson. She is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Or, at the very least, she is a sacrificial lamb being hoisted upon a misguided Supreme Court decision.

There are other preachers and teachers who are in favor of gay marriage who see Kim Davis as a caricature of Bible-belt conservatism, of Kentucky Bible-thumping. They are saying that Kim Davis and others like her are a dying breed and that their brand of Christianity is now completely marginalized and should be abandoned.

In this circus of opinions, you will always have the clowns. These are the ones who mock what they disagree with and treat every social issue as an opportunity to rip others apart. Primary among these are the late-night talk show hosts and their ilk. Every host took a shot at Kim Davis and every one of them used her as their whipping girl in one fashion or another. The Social Media jury also weighed in, creating several different memes. One of the most popular was the “Still Did Their Job” meme.

Here are two examples of this buffoonery:



Then, the politicians got involved. Senators, a Governor, several Republican presidential hopefuls all traveled to the jail where Kim Davis was being held to show their support and encouragement. When she was released from jail, many of these politicians stood there and held up her hands, applauded her and told the world how proud they were to be associated with her. Not surprisingly, now that her issue has died down, they don’t book any more flights to Kentucky. She may never hear from any of them again.

Civil Rights and Gay Rights groups continue to pummel Davis. Conservative Christian groups are inviting Kim Davis to come and speak at rallies, conferences and churches. We all can see that no matter what Kim Davis is doing right or wrong personally, all of these groups are using her to further their own agenda. That is not surprising or news but it does bring up an issue for all of us who read, listen to or watch the news.

The wrong thing to do is to jump on the bandwagon for or against anyone too early. The wrong thing to do is probably to jump on any bandwagon. And with the Internet, that is getting harder to resist doing every day.

During the week of 9-11, I was taking a class in Creative Writing from a local community college. Two days after the twin towers were demolished, we sat stunned in the classroom trying to make sense of it all. Our professor, a noted poet laureate and wise woman had a caution for us that morning. She warned us not to write about the event itself for a long time. “This is the kind of thing that will prompt you to fiery diatribes or cries of indignation. Try to resist writing down any of those thoughts for now” she offered.

Instead, she urged us to write down what each of us was feeling inside. If we were wrapped up in anger, grief, pain, confusion, racism, revenge, sadness, etc., those were the things she counseled us to focus on. Not to put too fine a spiritual point on what she said, this is similar to what Jesus said to his closest friends on the night he was betrayed. He told them to watch and pray so each one of them would be able to stand firm in the disaster that was coming. He didn’t wax eloquent on the injustice of the moment. He didn’t give them reasons to be indignant, reasons to be sad, reasons to be hopeful. He instructed them to deal with their own stuff.

I did write about how I felt during that season. I had the additional pain of my brother-in-law’s death, which happened two days after 9-11. All of that grief and pain ate up my mind during those days. Writing helped me to put it all in perspective. I waited two years before writing my feelings about what happened when New York, Washington, D. C. and Pennsylvania were attacked on 9-11. Those two years opened my eyes to so many things, most of which I never would have seen in the first week after the attack.

Let’s bring this around to Kim Davis. Every person who takes a position on what she is doing has a part of the equation correct. Kim Davis is trying to live out her faith. She is not living up to the Law. She could have resigned. She is not doing her job. She has a right to protest a law she does not agree with. Davis is allowing her subordinates to issue marriage licenses.

But those are always going to be the surface issues here. There are much deeper ones involved and they are not obvious. Let me give you an example. In her lawyer’s statement to the press, she says this:

Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.

Kim Davis has been married four times and divorced three times. There are many bible-believing Christians that would say every time she divorces and remarries, she commits adultery. Many of the same preachers that say homosexuality is sin also say divorce is sin. So, when Kim Davis went to church four years ago and surrendered her life to Christ, it was because of the message of grace and forgiveness that led her to God.

Does that same grace and forgiveness extend to her job and the people she believes are sinning? I can’t say, and I can’t say what that would look like. There are some who would say that it is hypocritical of her to take a stand against gay marriage but not against serial divorces. If she acknowledges that her sins can be forgiven, does she also acknowledge that the sins of the same-sex couples can be forgiven?

I am not proposing what is right or wrong in this situation. What I am encouraging my readers to do is to always take every news story and ponder it before jumping to conclusions. There are hundreds of issues we may be attracted to and count ourselves part of. Most of the time, we take the position that fits with our worldview at that moment. Or, we adopt the position of the news outlet we most often view. Or, we form an opinion based on the position we already hold.

Instead, perhaps we should reserve opinions on the actions and inactions of others until we have thought about and meditated on the entire issue. This is wisdom. It also helps keep us from dying on every mountain and championing causes that will be here today and gone tomorrow.

What Will the Judgment of God Look Like

In this teaching series, I started out by asking the question “Will God Judge America for Abortion and Gay Marriage?” As I have tried to show, this is a complex question with many parts–which is why I have done a many part teaching on this.

Let’s review what I have already said:

Part 1This issue of Judgment is complex and not as easy as some would like

Part 2 – The Principle of Delayed Consequences

Part 3 – Why is Judgment Delayed (the concept of God’s patience and grace)

Part 4 – Quick Judgment teaches that God can judge quickly if it suits His purpose

Part 5 – It is often difficult to interpret circumstances in light of God’s judgment. This is because you can interpret events many different ways and still sound credible.

Some readers have observed I have not spent a lot of time in the Old Testament in this study on Judgment. I have mentioned various incidents from the Old Covenant writings, but it is correct that a full theology of Judgment should be based on the New Covenant and the writings associated with it. There is a solid reason for this.

In John 5:22-23 we read,

22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

This must have been a brutal thing for Jewish leaders to hear. Of all the things Jesus says to the religious stalwarts of his day, this was among the hardest. Essentially, this says that the Son (Jesus) is not only the Messiah, but also will be the Judge over all creation. And, his teaching emphasizes that the Father (i.e. 1st member of the God/Trinity) will not be the Judge. The entire understanding of how God’s Judgment would work was all based upon their understanding of Jahweh the one who brings Justice and fire.

But Jesus changed the entire equation in this fifth chapter of John. He begins by calling God his Father, hinting at a deep, intimate relationship that no Jews would ever claim. Then, he continues deeper into heretical territory by stating that this “Father” of his shows him everything he does. This means that Jesus is an active partner and collaborator on all the works of God the Father. It is a miracle they didn’t take up stones to kill him that moment.

But the crowning glory of this teaching is Jesus’ insistence that he now is the Judge, the Arbitrar of all men’s deeds. It is upon this teaching of John’s Gospel we start to piece together the various elements of the Judgment of God.

First, notice that John 5:23 gives us the purpose of Judgment. “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” Most people reading this verse will probably be confused. How does the concept of “honor” relate to Judgment? And since Jesus has died, come back to life through the Resurrection, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, how can any judgment in this world bring honor to Jesus?

The simple answer is this: It can’t. This is because the kind of judgment Jesus is referring to here will not take place on this earth. This is not the judgment of man against man. This is not the judgment of circumstances. It is not even the quick judgment to deal with egregious error and potential disaster. The Judgment of Jesus is of a different nature.

We come back to something mentioned in an earlier article. The word for judgment refers to the entire process and not just the end result. It refers to the gathering and pronouncing of all the evidence. It refers to the declaration of the Judge concerning his decision and deliberation. It refers to the carrying out of that Judgment. It refers to every part of this process. And since we read here in John 5 that all judgment is now given to Jesus and that this will all be done so all creation can honor the Son, it must be done by Jesus publicly and decisively. Does the Bible have anything to say about Jesus’ public and visible judgment time?

The Book of Revelation is about many things. One of my theology professors , Dr. James Cheung, used to say that Chinese Christians who had endured decades of intense persecution for their faith, read the book of Revelation differently than Westerners. He said, to the Chinese Christian the phrase “To him who overcomes…” is the key to the book. This is about enduring to the end, not about trying to determine when the end will come. But he also told us that Christians who go through persecution throughout history have been comforted by one other theme in the book:  That Jesus Himself will judge every person for their deeds, and there will be no evil deeds that go unpunished.

Look at several things Revelation tells us about Judgment:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10)

This is what Dr. Cheung was referring to. It is easier to endure hardship and torture when you know there will be justice meted out by Jesus Himself.

Revelation 11:18 says this about Judgment:

      18 The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

This verse explains quite clearly that there is a time for judging the dead and for rewarding God’s servants. By implication, this is a Judgment and a Reward that has been delayed and put off for the proper time. This teaches us that Judgment is not a continuous thing.

Revelation 14:7 carries that thought further:

7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

In this verse, we are told about the “hour” of judgment. This word is used to refer to a point in time rather than an ongoing event. Judgment is seen as an “hour” not as a lifetime.

The Book of Revelation also explains what will happen in this “hour of judgment”.

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” p He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

This is the final battle on earth between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. At the end of that battle, Jesus (King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Word of God etc.) will triumph over all the armies in the land and set up the Millennium. Though this is certainly the Judge bringing his rule and reign upon the nations, there are several elements missing from the concept of Judgment. Where is the deliberation of wrongdoing? Where is the evidence?

Could it be that this is not even the Hour of Judgment? No, this battle is but a precursor to that day.

In Revelation 20:11-15 we read,

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

This portion of the Bible fits all the descriptions for Judgment. Everyone will stand before this throne. Books will be opened. Because all are judged by what is written in the books, we can safely assume this is evidence of wrong and right behavior. Then we are told every person will be judged according to what they have done.

This is called “The Great White Throne Judgment”. This is Jesus’ judgment day. Why do we refer to it that way? Because there are two books opened on that day. The first book is the aforementioned recording of every good and evil deed. Just as this forms the basis of evidence in a court of law, so too in Jesus’ court, we will each hear of the things we have done. Even for the best of it, this moment will be hard to bear.

The good news is there is a second book. This book is called the Book of Life. Anyone who has asked God to forgive their sins in the name of Jesus (or a facsimile thereof) has their name in this book. This book guarantees that someone else–Jesus Christ the Righteous One–will have been punished for those sins. It is called by some, “the great exchange”. Jesus gives us his righteous deeds and takes upon himself the punishment for our evil deeds.

This is the Day of Judgment. This is when God, through Jesus, will judge the earth. Until that day, God records all the good and evil deeds of every man.

In the final article in this series, we will answer the questions that we asked in the first one. Will God judge America for those sins we as a nation have committed?






The Best Expose Ever on The Ridiculous Prosperity Gospel

Posted on August 25, 2015

In the listing of comedy styles, satire and sarcasm should be near the bottom of everyone’s list. These stylistic attempts to entertain are always based upon a deeper level of anger and frustration. They are the venue of the passive-aggressive.

However, when wielded against things that ought to make us angry, they are both effective and devastating to the objects being attacked.

This video is dedicated to attacking one of Christianity’s most heinous copycats: The Prosperity Gospel Copycat. It is 20 minutes long and certainly irreverent. However, Christians have been way too nice to these charlatans in the past. John Oliver on his show laces his attack with profanity and sarcasm. But he also has some excellent proof of what is happening. After watching the video (or as much as you can) come back here and I’ll give you my personal take on all of this:

Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I invited a man to come and speak in our church. He was known to have certain powerful gifts and I was curious to see his ministry up close. He never identified himself as a Prosperity teacher, but I found out soon that this was his schtick.

On the second night, he spent almost 20 minutes on a financial appeal to seed money into his ministry. He used the same blurring of biblical texts to back up his doctrine. At the end of that service, I politely told him this was not what I or our church believed. I asked him to stop doing it.

Two nights later, he did the same thing again. In the middle of his appeal, I got up and asked him to sit down. Even though we had two more nights of meetings planned, we were done that night. I wasn’t going to endorse his shenanigans any longer.

I later learned in four days he had raised over $25,000 for himself. I was incensed and called him to let him know I thought he should give back that money to people. He laughed at me over the phone.

Cut to ten years later. The same Prosperity Teacher called me up (i was living in a different town) and asked to see me. I refused. I wanted nothing to do with his trickster approach to life. He assured me he didn’t want anything from me or my friends. So I agreed to meet him.

He wanted to apologize. He told me that he had raised a lot of money for himself in the few years he toured as an “evangelist” asking for money. He admitted it was in excess of a million dollars. Most of it went into gambling, drugs and jewelry. He was now broke, divorced and fighting addiction problems. He was going through a treatment program and part of his recovery was to make amends to those he had hurt. I was on that list.

In our conversation, he told a number of stories about men and women who had been part of his Prosperity Gospel movement. He told me that very few of them are followers of Christ and even less of them have any sense they are serving God. They know a great scam when they see it. He especially focused on men he knew: Creflo Dollar, Bob Tilton and Charles Capps. These three had taught him so much about how to raise bucks from unsuspecting rubes.

They are out there people. And they laugh at you while you send in money. Maybe, even with as crude as his presentation is, we should all be required to listen to John Oliver’s presentation just to remind ourselves that there are many “wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.”

Dissecting the Dones

Posted on August 20, 2015

dissection tools

The Dones are not a Reality TV family. They are an ever-growing group of people who no longer attend church, nor do they want to any time soon.

A host of articles have been written in the past 18 months looking at and analyzing this group.

The analysis is being done both by the “Dones” themselves and by those who do not want them to be done: i.e. church leaders. In these reports on the reasons Dones have left church, there are 7 reasons mentioned most commonly:

  • The church is too judgmental
  • Church leadership stifles creativity and personal expression
  • Lecture style of preaching is not the style Dones want
  • Their church’s stand on some doctrine or political stance differed from theirs
  • They find authentic experiences of God more often outside of church life
  • The church is unbending on certain moral issues the Dones consider complicated
  • They were hurt by people in more than one church setting

Well-known Christians now count themselves among the Dones. Heralded fiction writer Anne Rice wrote this a few years ago:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Donald Miller, author of the best-selling “Blue Like Jazz” was less harsh, but just as “done”, with his admission he was no longer attending church:

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through…How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model? The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.”

Rob Bell, a former pastor of Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, Michigan has announced that he will be a regular contributor to the Oprah Network. He was quoted as saying that if the church does not embrace homosexual marriage, it will become meaningless and a byword in history. He went on to say,

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,”

After saying this, Bell was so thoroughly castigated and disapproved, he willingly joined the ranks of the Dones. And he encouraged others to do the same.

I have taken a long time to dissect the inner workings of the “Dones” I know personally. Several of these are my closest friends and associates and  a couple are close family  members. So, I believe I am accurate in my findings.

Underneath the stated reasons that people have left church behind are factors that seem to unite this disparate group of people. I believe that even though these factors cannot possibly be universal–after all, there will always be unique reasons why people make certain decisions–I believe they represent the vast majority of Dones.


Unmet Expectations

This factor is easy to identify, for you will find it underlying any decision to be done with a relationship. A person has a reasonable expectation the relationship was going to go one way, and it ended up somewhere not as good. In this case, the relationship is between each individual Done and the local churches they have been part of.

Author Frank Viola, in his book “Pagan Christianity” claims there is only one authentic New Testament expression of Christianity: That is the one found in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians. I won’t break down that chapter or his argument, but his assertion is a good case in point concerning my idea that people leave church because of unmet expectations.

Viola is one of modern Christianity’s most vocal critics. Some would even say he led the original vanguard of the Dones (though he would likely dispute that on grounds he never left the church. He just redefined it).

Viola believes in the “pure” New Testament model of the Corinthians. However, the 14th chapter has to be placed in its context. For thirteen chapters, Paul has been criticizing the Corinthians for partisanship, greed, immorality, homosexual practices, the rich exploiting the poor within the church, pagan practices, loud public arguments between leaders: In short, he describes a church that few of us would ever want to join or stay with. But in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul commends them for the way they conduct their public meetings. They allow more than one person to teach. They invite participation from non-leaders, the music is intimate and communal, and the style is more free-flowing than modern churches embrace. The gifts of the Spirit are obvious and manifest and the Body of Christ seems to be functioning properly.

But though Paul commends them for this, the rest of their “junk” makes this group appear very dysfunctional, no matter how great their public gatherings appear.

If you study the letters of Paul, you find a Christianity disjointed, rebellious, given to cultic behavior and beliefs, rife with sectarian infighting and openly immoral. There is nothing about the first century church that would lead any of us to be satisfied with the Christianity they had over that of our present day. Paul in his letters even toyed with taking his own life and at the very least said he wasn’t averse to the idea of God taking him home early.

What I’m saying is that Christians since the first year of the church have felt this disappointment when their expectations of what the Church should be are not met with reality. But church history shows us a curious pattern: most great changes in the history of the church happened because someone got discouraged and said “I’m Done”.

Martin Luther said it many times. So did Ulrich Zwingli, Count Von Zinzendorf, William Tyndale, Samuel Rutherford, Charles Finney, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Aimee Semple McPherson, A. B. Simpson, Billy Graham, John Calvin and C. S. Lewis. All of these saw the Church as it should be and then compared the Church to what it was in their day and decided they didn’t want to keep going the way they were. Some, like Martin Luther, A. B. Simpson and John Wesley started new churches. Some like Zinzendorf, Zwingli and Tyndale just lived their life the best way they could and changed their world even though they weren’t plugged into the church. Others such as Finney, Rutherford and Billy Graham learned to come back into the church and help her change.

It just shows me that there are many ways to handle the disappointment of Unmet Expectations. But there is another factor that goes deeper than this. As I have written in the past, I hope the Dones will eventually give us something that can help modify and change today’s church into something better.


Pain and Resentment

John Bevere calls Resentment “The Bait of Satan.” When we are hurt by others, that hurt lasts for only a particular length of time. It has a shelf life. But if we entertain resentment for how we are hurt, then the pain does not stop. At times, the pain can take a life and a destiny all its own.

Gordon Sinclair was a newspaper reporter of some renown in Canada. He also was a recognized leader in his Church and denomination. In 1969, he announced to the world that he was done with the church, done with Christ and done with religion. From that day, he became a vocal opponent of Christianity and sought at every turn to point out the mistakes and sins of the church. What made him so vitriolic?

Sinclair joined the staff of a famous Canadian television program “Front Page Challenge.” It is through this medium that most Canadians came to know him. At one point in every show, the panel was asked questions about their personal life. (It was a news program designed to look like a game show). On one of those programs, Sinclair was asked why he hated Christianity so much.

He hesitated for a few moments and then launched into his explanation. In the late 1950s, he and his wife lost their only daughter to a debilitating disease. After this happened, he said, members of his church in Toronto barraged him with pat answers, phony good cheer and other nonsense. His pastor just wanted him to learn how to move through the grief into “victory”. After several years of this, Sinclair decided to stop attending church. That is when his denomination and friends who went to church turned on him. (This is his telling of the story of course).

He admitted he was bitter and resentful over all that happened. He resented God for taking his daughter, he resented the church for telling him to get over it, and he resented his Christian community for criticizing his decision to stop attending church.

Many of those who leave church and are “done” report some of these same feelings. So many of the Dones that I know grew up in conservative, almost legalistic, churches. In today’s church climate–and maybe it has always been this way–people feel very free to comment on each other’s mistakes, setbacks, family problems and life choices. Christians feel justified to do this since we use words like “body”, “family” and “community” to describe our church life. Inherent in those words are the implication that we should be able to be forthright and brutally honest. If you give that many people that many opportunities to comment on your life choices, you can be sure some of their opinions will cut to the core.

I know a Christian couple where one spouse was unfaithful. The other one decided they did not want to be married any longer. That is their choice and it really is no one else’s business. However, the rest of their Christian circle has adopted it as their mission to save the marriage. This hurts my friend and they have told me they are “done” with church.

But the pain is one thing: Resentment is another. Pain is inevitable, but resentment is a choice. If a Done can be hurt and eventually move on without resentment, they will eventually play some role in God’s quest to renew and change his church. But if resentment seeps into the core of the soul, there is little chance of recovery.


The Move Away from Classical Orthodoxy

A close friend of mine, a pastor, told me he no longer believes God will send anyone to hell. We call this belief Universalism, and for centuries it was considered outside the boundaries of orthodoxy. An estimate was made that a full 40% of those who attend evangelical churches now are Universalists in doctrine.

A recent study done by Christianity Today revealed that 25% of pastors now support Gay Marriage. When asked if they would openly support it, only 1 out of every 25 said yes. Obviously, this has not been the historic belief of the church.

The numbers vary, but it is commonly believed that the majority of Christians do not hold to a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, including details like Creation, the Flood, the Egyptian Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the Fall of Man into sin. Curiously, many of the people who do not believe in the literal translation of the Bible still believe in miracles, prayer, the Voice of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.

What this shows me is that classical doctrine has now become a hometown buffet. As Christians today read through the Bible, listen to sermons and watch Christian movies and television, they are instinctively taking the doctrines they want and leaving the ones they don’t. This may be one of the most important underlying factors in why so many people are Done.

How did this doctrinal soup happen?

I will probably write another article in the coming weeks on all the factors that led up to this, but let me mention the one most responsible in my opinion. The universality of the Internet has made the sheer number of doctrinal opinions on every issue too many to grasp. I read a ton of articles every month related to the doctrine and practice of the Christian Faith. And it is hard for me, even with my Theology degree, to adequately interact with all I am hearing. I can imagine what it is like for people who have limited knowledge of the Bible when they encounter this barrage of opinions on every doctrine and practice.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on evangelicals and their beliefs on premarital sex. In that article, I pointed out that certain biblical questions still remain about premarital sex. It’s not as cut and dry as most Youth Pastors–and the parents of their teens–would like it. I quoted several contemporary Christian writers who talked about their own struggles to remain chaste in the middle of a culture that believes all sex is good if both parties are consenting adults. What made it hard for these authors is that the majority of their 20-something Christian friends were openly sexual. It is hard to feel you are the last person holding up a tent pole as the tent begins to collapse.

What effect did this trend have on the Dones? First, since most Evangelical churches are known for taking dogmatic stances on core beliefs, if you struggle to accept any of the core beliefs of Christianity you will feel ostracized from your church. Second, if you practice Christianity differently than others, often because of these differing belief systems, you will hesitate to hang around with people who may condemn the way you’re living. And third, there are many people in this world who do not go to church who are willing to accept the way you’re living while you’re sorting out your beliefs. Many of these people are nice, moral and easy to get along with.

Every time the church has focused on a particular facet of living to condemn, those who practice those things are “Done” with the church. In the late 1800s it was drinking alcohol. In the 1970s it was divorce. In the 1980s, it was premarital sex. Smoking, doing drugs, missing church, provocative clothing, swearing, declaring bankruptcy are all practices that have caused churches to shun their members.

In today’s church, if you believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, are sex-positive, believe that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, support gay marriage–any of these will bring harsh reactions from church leaders.

This is the reason that Anne Rice and Rob Bell both became Dones.

I am not saying that the church should refrain from commenting on how people are living. I am not making any kind of judgment either way on that issue. Each church needs to decide what they believe and how they will communicate that to their members. What I am saying is that as church members realize there are millions of people who love Jesus and don’t believe what their church believes, they get discouraged. They realize that unless they adopt the entire package of things their church believes, they will have to be Done with church.

And many of them are. The Internet and the tendency of the post-modern age to say that nothing is absolute and no belief issue is settled make it easier for people to be Done with church.

And I wrote this article for two reasons:

  1. To help those who Stay with church to understand why some don’t
  2. To help those who are Done with church to know why you chose it.



My FOMO Letter

Posted on May 8, 2015

In addition to being a counselor and writer, I am also in leadership in our faith community (Gateway Fellowship) in Sacramento, CA.

I wrote a letter this week to the members of that fellowship–and several of them asked me to reprint it here for a much larger readership. So, with a couple of minor changes, here it is.

There are times I teach on Sunday mornings. I also teach occasional seminars, I write books, and even do a few videos to instruct. That is what God has called me to do—to instruct people on the truths of God’s word. This letter is one of those times of instruction. Indeed, it may be one of the most critical things I have taught in a long time. There is a disease of the ungodly world which has now begun to infect the people of God. It isn’t too late to vaccinate against this disease, but only when we recognize how much a problem it is.

To explain this disease, let me describe the first time I saw it. Hopefully as you hear my description of the first symptoms of this disease it will begin to dawn on you how seriously this disease can destroy many of the things we all hold dear.

One of my daughters many years ago planned a party to celebrate a very important occasion in her life. It doesn’t matter which daughter it was or which occasion they were marking. She sent out about 30 invitations to all her friends and waited for their response. She sent these invitations about 6 weeks before the event, giving everyone plenty of opportunity to respond. And then she waited.

My daughter is well-liked and has many good friends. Two of her closest friends let her know the next day they were coming. What a great start. But then something happened that made no sense at the time. She experienced teen symptoms of a large societal disease. No one else let her know if they were coming. She waited day after day, week after week, and no one gave her any indication if they would be there. She even resorted to calling several of them to confirm. Very few of them said they weren’t coming. The most common answer was this one: “I can’t really let you know yet. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

By the day of the party, 8 more people let her know at the last minute. But the danger within their hesitancy is revealed by that one phrase.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.” Let those words sink it. They indicate two things. First, they show that these people were thinking about attending and had not ruled it out. But the second truth is the most dangerous. They wanted to keep their options open in case something more important came up. As my friend Gary told us at a recent staff meeting, this is a case of FOMO. This stands for Fear Of Missing Out. So many people in our culture have been afflicted with this. We don’t really commit too early to anything because something better may come along. There are so many options in our culture of things to do, we don’t want to miss out. We can’t miss out. We won’t miss out.

Those who study church life have identified a disturbing trend. Though church attendance in America is not growing, it is also not shrinking. By one measurement, people who report they attend church has stayed the same for the last 20 years. But average church attendance is dropping rapidly. How is that possible?

It is simple. The same group of people still attends church; they just don’t attend as often as they used to. Do the math on this: If a group of 200 attend church every Sunday, then the average attendance is 200. What happens if those same 200 attend 3 out of 4 Sundays instead of 4/4 per month? The average attendance now is 150, even though everyone is still going to that church. What if all the 4/4 attenders now attend 2/4 times per month? The attendance is now 100 per Sunday, even though the same amount of people attend the church.

I can hear someone saying, “What’s the big deal?”

If you are even toying with that question, then you don’t understand the real problem of the FOMO disease. FOMO, once it infects the soul, is like a cancer. It doesn’t stop. The more you give in to the idea that you may miss out on something, the more events, people and relationships you attempt to fit in. And the more you try and fit as many things into your life as possible, the less important each of those things becomes. All things in your life become trivial. All things in your life are optional, interchangeable and replaceable.

And that includes the fellowship of people you call your church.

In a recent Kinnaman poll of visitors to church, they revealed if someone is going to visit a church for the first time, they will usually arrive 10-15 minutes before the service begins. A similar poll was done by Kinnaman showing that 10 minutes before a church service, only 3% of the congregation is there. So that means most visitors show up to a church and almost no one is there. Think of the visitor: They are already nervous about showing up at a place where they don’t know anyone. Some of them were invited by friends and they show up 15 minutes before their friends do.

So why are people attending half as much as they used to? Why are believers in Christ coming to church at the last minute? Why do we feel less and less connected to each other in the Church? FOMO. We fill our lives so full all week long that we have to fit so many more things into Saturdays and Sundays. We are so afraid of missing anything that we continue to make plans for Sunday afternoon while the sermon is going on. We fit so many things into our Saturdays, for fear of missing out, that by Sunday we often have to sleep in until 11 just to catch up.

I am going to challenge you that if we don’t immunize ourselves right away, this disease is going to mess our souls up so much we may never recover. I could write an entire book on this (and perhaps this letter feels that long) because I am worried about these trends. And there are some reasons why this damages us:

  1. At the very least it tires us out constantly
  2. We no longer see the value of a few things because we are concerned about many things
  3. We diminish the value of important things in the sheer volume of things we are worried about.
  4. The Bible tells us in so many places that the Body of Christ is the primary place we will see God move to work in our lives in this world. If we rarely spend quality time with the Body of Christ, then the rest of the Body gets weaker—and so do we.


So, what am I suggesting we do about this?

Allow me to share something a friend wrote to me after a recent meeting. She and her husband came to realize as a family that they were maxing out their Saturdays that Sunday became a tiring day. Here is what they decided:

Some time ago, Mike Phillips led a teaching series on simplifying our lives. Something about that series resonated with our family. We were certainly running in all directions and didn’t have a lot of time on the weekends for the kids to just “be kids” and for us to just breathe. It has taken quite a bit of conscious effort on our part to reduce the amount of “weekend activity” we do, what with all of our friends in every sport under the sun and asking us to do that too. But we have decided that we do not want to live our lives in chaos and miss out on our family time while our children are young. This doesn’t mean we don’t have weekends that we are busy, but we have worked hard on saying no. Last Saturday, we had an opportunity to deliberately say no and be at home all day together. How liberating that day was. The kids played outside. We barbecued as a family and we breathed. We have found that free Saturdays are essential to our well-being as a family and this allows us to come into Sunday morning services without stress or feeling like we are missing out on our weekend.

Notice that they had to deliberately plan this: It didn’t happen by accident or because they are unpopular. They also fought the fear of missing out.

In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Why do you attend church? Is it to see a show? Is it to show off a new outfit? Do you do it for the free coffee and food? Do you like having a live band that you don’t have to pay a cover charge for? Obviously, these would be ridiculous reasons to come to church. But this bible passage essentially says that we meet together to encourage each other and spur each other to love more.

This means, you are there to bless someone else. They are there to bless you. If either they or you are missing, so is a major part of the ministry God wants to do in people’s lives. We don’t meet together to pad statistics and make us feel like we’re part of something big. At Gateway Fellowship, we don’t put on a show. We leave that to the megachurches. We don’t have fancy furniture or loud music or flashy preaching. We allow others to focus on that.

We believe in community and we do our best to bring that to every member. But it requires that we are there. Not a quarter of the time, not half the time—most of the time. Can you ask God about this? I think it is time for God’s people to decide that the Body of Christ is more important that a marathon, a wine-tasting party or multiple trips to theme parks. I think our church family needs you more than you need two more hours of sleep.

Will you be there when they do? Will you be there when God speaks clearly through someone to you? Will you be there when God speaks through you?

Are We Harming our Children or Arming Them?

Posted on April 28, 2015

Kevin Swanson is a very conservative Christian teacher and preacher. In recent years, he has devoted himself and his ministry team (at Generations Radio) to engage and understand the Millennial Generation and their unique beliefs and needs.

In this sermon audio, he explains a disturbing trend among the children who grew up in Evangelical churches and are now exercising and practicing their faith as grown Millennials:

In this audio, he references two additional studies furnished by Time Magazine and the Public Religion Research Institute. I encourage you to read my summary below and then return to these links if you want to wrestle with the conclusions.

First, he mentions that 43% of the children of evangelicals now support Gay Marriage. This figure is more than double what it was in 2003. This should concern anyone who believes that Gay Marriage goes against the clear teaching of Scripture.

Second, all the studies come to the conclusion that the more a child is isolated from the primary culture the more likely they are in their 20s to support Gay Marriage, practice premarital sex and experiment with drugs and alcohol.  This isolation can happen through schooling options–such as Christian Schools and homeschooling–or through strict rules about what a child can read, watch or interact with outside of school.

Speaking as a parent that had strict guidelines about what my children could read, watch and play with, these studies are talking about me. I just wanted to make that clear. Also, all of my children attended Christian schools at one time or another and one of them was homeschooled for a period. I mention this lest anyone think I am against Christian schools or homeschooling.

In addition, I believe that all parents–Christian or otherwise–should be a filter for their children, warding off the worst of the dominant culture, especially in their early years. Let no one mistake that.

What is even more disturbing is that Christian parents who exercised less supervision over their children have the opposite results.  Swanson says that children from more lenient households do not show as much support for Gay marriage or drug and alcohol use..  Remember, these studies are only measuring the children of evangelicals. They do not canvas or study children of mainline church members, secular children or children of other faiths.

About seven years ago, another study was done to determine how effective the “True Love Waits” campaign was. This was a campaign to encourage students to devote themselves to sexual purity before marriage. The study concluded that teens who participated in “True Love Waits” had sex before marriage at a higher rate than church teens who didn’t take the pledge. (To be fair, the founders of this movement dispute the findings and challenge a larger study to be done. At the very least they admit though not enough students really did “wait” the movement was a success in that some percentage of teens abstained because of their pledge. I don’t think they are correct).

I have explained some of this in my upcoming book “The Spiritwalk”, but allow me to summarize what I believe is happening. Let’s start with the simplest explanation. All children rebel; this has been true since the beginning with Adam and Eve. Rebellion is simply a declaration of “no one tells me what to do…I make my own decisions.” Every child believes this at some point, regardless of how well we parent. In his book Parents in Pain, Dr. John White observed that God was the perfect parent and all his children have gone astray.

Rebellion gets more pronounced with more rules. Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 7:7-11.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

The more rules a society has, the more rebellious its people. Those who live in Singapore, one of the most rule-oriented societies in the history of the world, say that its people are constantly looking for ways to act out in rebellion; in sexual, emotional, financial and substance abuse activities.

So what is the answer to this: have no rules? That would simply foment chaos. For those of us who have raised our children, we often remember the biggest mistakes we made as teens. When we see our own teens marching down the road toward those same mistakes, we want to jump in and squash those problems before they start. This can be a mistake if we try and prevent some things from happening too soon. The more we mention how bad some mistakes are, the more curious their rebellion gets.

Or, when they do make mistakes, we often (out of love) jump in to rescue them too early. This gives our children the impression that they are not responsible for figuring these things out on their own. When they truly are “on their own” they have not had to exercise their own judgment. We may be setting them up for failing by rescuing them too early.

The other mistake is made when we rush in to create even more rules to control them.  Doing this virtually guarantees they will kick against it. Some will do this openly, but many will wait until after they leave home to do it.

The key to balancing the approach to potential mistakes is always boundaries and consequences. Let them know how you would like them to act while they live in your house. At the same time, give them options in life. As they get older, give them choices; even choices that you might disapprove of. The more choices a child has in their life, the better they will get in handling their own ability to choose. A parent should never take all choices away from their children. This is a recipe for disaster. you cannot make a child believe what  you believe, no matter how much you isolate them.

I think of the Father of the Prodigal Son. He didn’t force his child to stay home. He knew the child would destroy the peace of his life by going away with the inheritance, but he did not stop him.

The longer you hold onto all the choices in a child’s life, the more intensely they will rebel when they are no longer under your authority.

But, if  you live your life with integrity, if you bring in life options consistent with  your beliefs and explain why you believe what you do, and then give your child the options to agree or disagree, then though they will certainly rebel at some point, they will do so with much less intensity than if you tried to control their choices.

In the next article, I want to show what a good example and a bad example would look like in this discussion.

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