Blog Archives

Poll: Are You Attending Church More or Less These Days?


Why Christians are Leaving ChurchIn a recent post, we discussed a study that concluded Christians and non-Christians are both attending church services much less today.   If you missed that compelling post, you can read it here: Barna Study: Even Christians Are Leaving Our Churches.

Today we want to give you a chance to chime in on the topic, and we have two polls that allow you to do that.  The first one asks if you are attending church more or less these days.  There are several answers.  Please don’t answer the way you would like to be able to answer or how you think you should answer.  Just the way it really is in your life at this moment.

The second poll asks why you are attending church less.  You have several option here as well, even an “other” where you can write in your answer.  There is also an answer for “I am attending church MORE”  and “I am attending about the same”

Thank you for voting and please feel free to share these polls with your readers or re-blog this post.  If you look at the results so far, it seems to coincide with the study.  The more answers the better, so share away!

Barna Study: Even Christians Are Leaving Our Churches


Why Christians are Leaving ChurchThe church may want to stop focusing on those elusive and extremely sensitive “seekers” for a while, because now, even believers are starting to leave the church.

We were warned back in 2005 that this was coming, but few paid attention to it then.  Many scoffed and pretended it could never happen.  But it is happening. That is what a recent poll by the Barna Group has uncovered, and the implications of it are alarming.

In this article, I want to share some of Barna’s findings with you.  I warn you:  Brace yourself!

I invite you to join the discussion in the comment section, as well as answer the polling questions (there are two polls at the bottom of the post) so we can get a better idea of what is going on from your perspective.   In the next post we will offer our analysis about why it is happening.

“What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith?”

When the Barna Group asked this question, people offered a variety of answers:

  • Prayer
  • Family or friends
  • Reading the Bible,
  • Even having children

But CHURCH did not even crack the top 10 list.

That is staggering in its implication.  Christians of all Read the rest of this entry

The Total Inability of Calvin To Explain Man’s Ability to Respond to God?


Man's Inability and CalvinTotal: Completely, Absolutely

Inability: lack of sufficient power, resources, or capacity

It is true that humanity can not come to Christ unaided. The Scriptures and the early church agree on this. Both sides of the Monergism vs Synergism civil war agree on it. Without God’s grace no one is able to come to Christ. Period!

But what does that actually look like and how does it work? The truth of the matter is that no one really knows and those who say they do don’t understand what they are saying. How God works this out in humanity lies within the mystery of God himself.

Calvin and the “ists’ his teaching has inspired believe this means that humanity can not even respond to God unaided. They teach that man must first be born again and then exercise faith in Christ. One can not say “yes” to God until after the new birth takes place.  Which leads them to teach things like this:

“This doctrine of total inability which declares that men are dead in sin does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is equal in itself, nor that man’s spirit in inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead… The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

“The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.”

Essentially, reformed theology teaches that Read the rest of this entry

Contending for THE Faith?


calvinism2Things are slow around here so when I saw this and I just couldn’t resist.

That sound you are hearing?  That is me stirring the pot!

Calvin’s faith is certainly different from the faith of the early church, but is it going to far to say he reinvented or re–delivered a new faith?

You decide.

Play nice, please.

The Least Most: Our Top 5 Posts That Nobody Read!


 

The Least Most Read PostYes, it is that time again.  The “Best of” posts are all coming out.  (Find ours here)   Today, as an act of humility, we present our Bottom 5.  They are our least read posts of all time. 

Now, we humbly suggest that they occupy the bottom NOT because they were poorly written or were uninteresting.  No!  We believe you (yes you) were too busy doing other important stuff on the days these came out.

So, go ahead and read one.  Or two.  Heck read them all! 

It is a little bit late but Happy New Year! Read the rest of this entry

Blogging Tips 101: Becoming A Better Blogger


Becoming a Better BloggerYou will love it and hate it.

It is both rewarding and frustrating.

You will see it as a good investment of your time and a gigantic waste of your time all in the same week.

You may want to give it up and you will think  you can’t live without it.

Welcome to the world of blogging.  Can we sign you up?

I started this blog back in 2010 with my very first post, Whatever Happened to the Message of The Cross?  Since then, we have posted hundreds of articles and had thousands of comments and conversations.  I have experienced every single one of the things mentioned in the first paragraph of this post!  Yet I am still here, typing out my thoughts.  Even after all this time, I still love blogging!

If you are reading this, you are either new to blogging or you have been doing it a for a while.  Either way, I want to help you become a better blogger.  I am not talking about writing better blog posts.  Rather, I want to share my thoughts on how YOU can become a better blogging person!  I am going to assume you already know what your topics are, and where to go to get help to become a better writer.  I want to help you become a better blogger so that your experience blogging is as enriching and rewarding as it can be.  So here is my advice: Read the rest of this entry

Are the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Views on How One is Saved Actually That Different?


What-must-I-do-to-be-saved Not for itching ears

Not Really!

I am beginning to think that there is less disagreement between the Protestant view and the Catholic / Orthodox view on salvation than we realize.

The misunderstanding is a result of how each part of the church defines “salvation.”

When a Protestant talks about “being saved”, “getting saved”, “accepting Christ” or any other number of terms we use for this, we are primarily referring to the idea of forgiveness of sins. Our sins are forgiven when we “come to Christ”. We have been ‘saved” from sins eternal penalty.  We can not earn this forgiveness of sins, it is a merciful free gift from God and we resist anything that makes it look like it must be earned.

In this sense Salvation IS an event, we have been forgiven of our sins!  However, Read the rest of this entry

Can You See The Difference Between Contemporary Worship and Early Church Worship?


Contemporary worship vs Early Worship

Worship Leaders: It IS all about YOU!


All about youLike it or not, if you are the worship leader at your church, it IS all..about…you!  Just not in the way you would expect.

You are in charge of planning, preparing and executing one third to one half of the entire service.  How well you do that is essential to the people you are charged with leading week after week.

I know there is a lot more to being a good song leader than what the congregations hears on Sunday morning.  It takes a lot of work away from the stage to create a service that effectively inspires God’s people to worship rather than being entertained.  The responsibility for that lies squarely on your shoulders.  In that sense, it IS all about you.  It is about how you view the gathering and how you prepare for it.

Choosing Better Songs

If you want the majority of the men and women in the congregation to sing with the team, you Read the rest of this entry

Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians?


it's worseIt is worse than it looks!

It doesn’t  matter which study you read about the church, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  The church is in decline.

The church is in trouble.  I don’t need to read a study to know this.  I have observed it over the years in countless churches that I have visited.  Churches are weak and though they may have exciting services, they are largely failing to develop strong, grounded and mature Christians.  The church at large (there are exceptions, of course) is also failing to impact the lost around her.

The statistics on this are over-whelming and should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks so that we immediately fall on our knees to cry out to the Lord “What are we doing wrong?”  Sooner or later that will have to happen.  Let’s pray it is the former!

Is This Decline the Result of a Flawed Church Model?

I have a theory.  It goes something like this:  The decline we are seeing in the church is directly related to Read the rest of this entry

The Whole World Stops For 4 Weeks Tomorrow. So Must We


world-cup-2014Every four years, the world effectively shuts down for the greatest sports event on the planet.

What is that event?  Most Americans can’t answer that question so we share the answer here:

The World Cup!

That time is upon us, it starts on Thursday.

Not many people know this, but over here at Not For Itching Ears, we are hard core futbol, or soccer fans. We watch every single game. No matter what time the game is on, we watch it.   What’s not to like about it?  204 teams compete over a three year period to win an invitation to the World Cup, which happens every 4 years.  The host country team gets  in free.    So there is some great competition.

To make room in our schedule, Not For Itching Ears will be on vacation until the World Cup ends.  We have priorities, so we will also be foregoing all yard work.  All items on the “Honey Do” List have been temporarily removed.   We were supposed to be in Brasil for the games, but alas, we are not!

Soccer is God’s greatest gift for world evangelism.  It is an instant conversation starter.  Just ask ANY non-American, male or female, who they are rooting for or what they think or their countries chances and you’ll have a 5 – 10 minute conversation about soccer.  After that, the rest is up to you.

Our staff is rooting for in this order:

1. The USA and Ecuador (it’s a tie actually) Neither will win, but Ecuador has the best chance of advancing out of their group.  Sadly, the USA is in the “Group of Death”

2. Any South American Country

The teams we most want to lose: Ghana, (sorry friends, you have beaten us one to many times) and Mexico. You can’t throw beer bottles at the USA team on their home field in the USA and expect us NOT to despise your team (we love you though!)

Take my advice: Stop blogging for a month and enjoy the World Cup. See you Mid-July!  If you don’t know much about it check out this article on the Ten things Non-Soccer Fans Need To Know About the World Cup. 

Is Worship A Life Well Lived or A Song Well Sung?


worshipasasong2We love to discuss those things we are passionate about, don’t we? Be it our favorite football team (THE Washington Redskins), politics, sports, movies, cultural issues. Heck we even argue about beer! Remember the Miller Lite commercials? For years, Miller Lite drinkers, including the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and John Madden, bickered back and forth on our TV sets. The argument? What made Miller Lite such a great beer. Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling. Though they were very entertaining commercials, it makes one wonder: Don’t we have anything better to discuss than beer?

Of course we do! Over here at Not For Itching Ears, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about a topic that is higher up the food chain: Worshipping God. If you read these posts (millions of people do each hour) Read the rest of this entry

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship….We Need It!


nada-zip-zilchNothing

Zip

Nada

Zero

Zilch

Nil

That’s how much our worship of God adds to God.  Our “worship” doesn’t enhance Him and our lack of worship doesn’t take anything away from Him.  Put another way, God doesn’t need our worship.  In fact God doesn’t need anything from us:  our money, our time, our dedication, our service.

Theologians refer to this as God’s Independence:

“God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.”  Grudem, Systematic Theology.

The New Testament states it this way:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  Acts 17:24-25

Is God An Egomaniac?

Think about this:  If God does not need our worship, why does he require that we worship him and him alone?

Is it because he is the ultimate egomaniac?

Is it because he loves to hear the sound of his own name on the lips of his adoring fans?

No.  When we look at God’s acts in history that is not the picture we see.  It must be something else.

We All Worship Something

Humans are pretty predictable.  We are the ultimate evaluators.  We evaluate everything in life and prioritize them according to what we think is best.  For example, I highly value guitars.  But I value my wife and children more.  There is really no comparison; I rank family higher in importance.  What do I value more than family?  Whatever the answer to that questions is, I may value something even more than that.  I can keep going up the ladder of importance until I finally reach that one thing  I esteem more than anything or anyone else.

Whatever that thing or person is, that is what we worship.  We all worship someone or something, even if it is ourselves!

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship…We Need It!

I submit to you that God doesn’t need our worship; we need the worship we offer him.  I think that is why God demands our devotion.  There is no other thing or being more worthy of our ultimate devotion than Him.  It has been said that we become like that which we worship.  God, in his mercy, created us to become like him.  If that is going to happen, then we must actively place him at the top of our Top Ten List of Things I Value The Most.

Looking at worship this way means leads us to conclude that worship, though directed at God, is truly meant to serve humanity.

We are to worship God, not ourselves.

But God demands our worship, NOT for himself but for the good of his people.

At least, that’s the way I see it.

On a side note, that is one of the reasons I am so passionate and often critical about corporate worship.  It has the potential to truly shape us, but we often squander those opportunities because we don’t understand what worship is and why God demands it of us.

Everything I Know About The Lord I Learned In Church?


study the word“Your challenge is NOT that people won’t believe what you teach.

Your challenge is that most people are going to believe EVERYTHING you teach.  When you stand in the pulpit and teach God’s word, you better make sure you know what you are talking about!”

I have never forgotten how my Greek professor started that Intro to Greek class.  He laid out a challenge to the entire class that has shaped me all these years.   When I was preaching every week, it guided my preparation time.    It is why I spent 30-40 hours every week as a pastor studying the texts I was teaching on.  I took it THAT seriously.

A lot of us out here in the blogosphere know how to study the scriptures for ourselves. We read books and articles all the time that help shape our faith and practice.  Still, vast majorities of people rely on the church corporately and pastors specifically to teach them the faith.  How are we doing?

According to a report by George Barna, the church is failing miserably in this area.  “Believers” know less and less about God and understand the Bible less and less.  Yet it is the Church’s job to make disciples and to “Teach them to Obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.”

Why is this happening?  If you read this blog, you know that I don’t lack an opinion on this!

Could one of those reasons be the failure of our younger pastors to grasp the significance of their preaching task?  I have been to over 30  40 different churches in the last 8 years.  One of the things I have noticed is the casual manner that a majority of pastors have towards their preaching.  I can tell when someone has prepared.  It is obvious to a wordsmith when a fellow wordsmith has put in the study and preparation time.  It is just as obvious when they are winging it.

From what I have seen, many pastors are winging it!

The reasons for this can be summed up into to broad categories:   Time Management and Skill/training

Pastoring has never been an easy job.  Preaching week after week is not for the faint of heart.  The demands of today’s ministry on a pastor’s time only make it harder to be faithful in your study.  I am no longer pastoring, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get quiet alone time to study in today’s world.

For many pastors, there just isn’t enough time to adequately study AND keep up with the ever increasing demands of today’s ministry.  The only solution I know for this is to let other things go.  Pastor, if you find that you don’t have time week after week to study the word and show yourself approved, you need cut other less valuable things out of your schedule.  You know what those things are.

The other issue that may be causing this “Wing It!” mentality is a lack of skill in studying the Bible.  Judging by what I’ve seen, our seminaries may no longer teach Hermeneutics.  I doubt they are teaching Homiletics.   If you don’t know how to study a text or passage, and you are a preacher, you need to stop reading this and go learn how to do it!

When you stand in that pulpit to teach God’s word, we are listening!  We are ready to believe what you teach.  Many of us will believe what you teach even when you are off base and wrong, due to a lack of serious thought on the text.  For our sake, and for His sake, take some extra time and prepare the way you should.

If your pastor is already doing this, rejoice!  Send him a note and thank him!  Encourage him to keep doing it!  Find out when he studies and never call or email or text him during those times, unless it is a real emergency.   Teach others in the congregation to do the same.  Help guard your pastors study time, and you, he and the entire congregation will be the better for it!

Why God Might Not Be Concerned About Our Doctrinal Differences


blog-oh-my-god“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

I asked, as my friend looked on in utter disbelief at what had just been said. We had been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I have lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)

“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!

I can’t argue with that!

What perplexes me though, is that there are so many different types of churches. Clearly a lack of unity within THE church has eluded us. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That is a pretty significant difference. We can’t all agree on how many books are actually in God’s Holy Word! That also seems significant. Some of the churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation, while others teach that it has a lot to do with it, still others are somewhere in-between. Maybe it is just how I think about things, but I would have to say this one is a critical difference of doctrine. We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.

Then we have us Protestants who agree to disagree!

We agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We believe there is such an important and critical thing as the Atonement, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe that people worked miracles, but can’t seem to agree on when or IF that has stopped. We can’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship. We can’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ. We can’t agree on what it means to follow Christ. We don’t agree on a host of important issues.

The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects that argue amongst themselves and who can’t seem to agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is foolish and wishful thinking.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion.   It would seem the Father didn’t answer that one in the affirmative. Or am I missing something?

Why would God have allowed that to happen?

Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.

If the church is so important to Him, and if the purity of the Gospel and the doctrinal teachings that stem from understanding it correctly matter so much, why didn’t he step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Church? Why would God allow the church to embrace a false gospel that would consign its followers to hell? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.

Of Course Catholics believe that the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church had existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther and the young punk come along and want to change the whole thing. It is understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.

Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. Make no mistake about it; God knew what the result would be of doing nothing to stop these movements. Because of the omniscient nature of God, combined with His foreknowledge, the ensuing doctrinal mess would not have surprised him. He knew it would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!

We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.

But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split. It is not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. In all three cases, God allowed it to stand. In all three instances, The Father had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to. Even when, in the case of the Reformers, God knew that a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal disunity would surely result if He did not act. Still, he refrained.

This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Most assuredly, the doctrinal differences we have killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God?

Before you get the kindling and light the match to burn me alive at the stake for the heretic that I am, realize that I am not saying that God does not care about the Gospel or the church. That is not what I am saying at all. Actually, I don’t know what to think about all this. This is a conversation I have been having, largely in my own mind, for quite some time. I thought I would put it out there for others to interact with and see how you might approach the topic.

Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements?

Read another thought provoking post on worship:  God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!

Can You Write a Better Worship Song Than These Song Writers? We Don’t Think So


Enjoy this satirical look at modern worship lyrics. Song writers were challenged to write a worship song using the name of Soap Opera’s as their dominant lyrics. Hilarious, and surprisingly similar to the typical worship song being written and sung in churches across the USA.

Discover The Early Church – “We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them!


JustinEasy to read.

Hard to put down.

Inspiring.

Informative.

Effortless introduction into the writings of the early church.

Download it and start reading it today for less than  $6 on Amazon

“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them”  is a must read book for every Christian.  It contains two early church writings:  Justin Martyrs First Apology and Octavius, written by Mark Felix.

If you want an introduction into how the early church thought about Jesus, Salvation, predestination, communion and life after death, and how they lived out the faith, this is the easiest introduction I know.  Thanks to the modern translation, the works practically read themselves.

Next to the Bible, the early Christian writings are the most valuable documents of Christianity.  They teach us what the church was like immediately after the events recorded in the New Testament. What a rich resource they are. Yet, for many followers of Christ , they remain a mystery.  You know all about the history of the United States and how it started.  You probably know a lot about how your own denomination began or at least how the Reformation started. Shouldn’t we all be familiar with how Christianity grew in the first and second century?

Don’t stay in the dark.  Read this book:  “We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” 

When a second-century pagan ridiculed Christians for their lack of education, one Christian replied, “We don’t speak great things we live them!” That was the essence of early Christianity. It was not a Christianity of words, but rather of holy, obedient living.

This book contains two second-century Christian works, translated into readable contemporary English: Mark Felix’s Octavius and Justin Martyr’s First Apology. They describe the dynamic, living church of the second century and discuss what Christians of that age believed.

The First Apology of Justin Martyr is the oldest Christian apology still in existence in its entirety. Justin penned this work at the risk of his own life. Apart from the inspired New Testament writings, this apology is perhaps the single most valuable work of early Christianity. Through it, we can take a peek through time to see what Christianity was like at the close of the apostolic age. For example, Justin takes us on a tour of a Christian baptism and a typical Sunday morning church service. He lets us know what Christians in his age believed about Jesus, salvation, predestination, communion, and life after death.

Octavius, written by a Christian lawyer named Mark Felix, takes a look at Christianity from both the pagan and Christian view points. It’s not only one of the most readable early Christian works, but it’s also a true work of literature. Felix writes in a graceful style that rivals that of Cicero, and his defense of Christianity is truly inspiring. In the end, Octavius is more than a challenge to the pagan Romans it’s a challenge to the twentieth century church as well.

“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” Justin Martyr and Mark Felix

 

Idol Worship: How Your Church May Be Doing It and How To Fix It


American Idolatry_revised“If it feels good, do it!”

This has been one of our favorite slogans since the 1960’s.  It seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic view for church: “If it makes people come to church, we should do it.” Today, church leaders of every persuasion are willing to try anything if it works in drawing more people into their services.  If it “works” then it must be fine and stamped with the  approval of God Himself.

I can hear you now saying “Of course this is true!  Why on earth wouldn’t it be?”

Because it wasn’t!

One of the things that is clear for any to examine is that… Read the rest of this entry

Worship: Why Your Church Is Failing And What You Can Do About It


Failing worship gradeFrom my view in the cheap seats, it seems that what it means to worship God has become open to interpretation.

Can I worship God any way I want to?

Does church leadership have biblical authority to design a worship service anyway they think is best?

Judging by the state of worship in the American Evangelical church, the answer is Yes to both questions. And boy do we ever take this permission seriously!

It would appear  that Read the rest of this entry

They Devoted Themselves to What?


disbelief not for itching earsI’ve never heard of this translation before and I don’t think it is correct. It does seem to accurately reflect the direction of the church in the USA though. Here’s a quote of Acts 2:42-45 from the New Testament For Today’s Christianity.  Check the Greek and you decide. Read the rest of this entry