cognitive dissonance: the end of 2017

I used to believe that wherever the Gospel of the Kingdom was systematically preached, the surrounding church culture of that locale would eventually, inevitably reflect it. Now, not only am I persuaded otherwise, I’m very concerned that our imperial church paradigms (e.g. clergy/laity distinction, hierarchical power structures, pastor as cornerstone of church polity, sermon as centerpiece of church gatherings, etc.) create conformity-based cultures where the Sunday sermon, however “Christ-centered” and well preached, can actually inoculate us from the Gospel. The cognitive dissonance of what is functionally experienced on a weekly basis is just too overwhelming. And it’s been this way for well over 1500 years. Let’s repent. – James Paul

This thought from James Paul caused me to look back over the last three decades of following Jesus and I’ve found his thought to be true. What I’ve experienced and heard from others is the cheering on of the extravagant Sunday experience as though it is the truest of Christian experiences. I’ve also heard the many arguments for the current institutional church systems and hierarchical structures. Some of you will argue otherwise, but many of our fellow Christians have been inoculated and lulled into a false sense of security and safety with a message that is usually far removed from the good news of God’s kingdom. Many have been lulled by the notion of power and control. That doesn’t resemble the sermon on the Mount.

When it comes to Sunday morning’s, the question for me is why are we “preaching” the gospel to Christ-followers? Should that not be lived out together as a community through the making of disciples? Again, we’ve been lulled into the assumption that the activities of Sunday are all we need. Keep in mind the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom was first given to the marginalized, lost, broken-hearted and least of these in search of someone and something in which to hope. This cognitive dissonance has created a dangerous and deadly environment controlled by clergy, while laity are expected to buckle-up and enjoy the ride. The hierarchy tells us who the experts are in church, which means only they can dispense of the sacraments. It’s assumed only they can discern the Scriptures.

Mind you, I despise the terms clergy and laity, because they create division. Also, not all church leaders are controlling. I have many dear friends who are “pastors” and some would agree the Christian life is not about the Sunday service. Nor do they place an emphasis on the clergy/laity divide. Some have have turned the Sunday gathering into one of many days to celebrate an encounter with the Spirit of the Lord. I commend them for the work they do by investing into people’s spiritual journey through discipleship relationships, as opposed to fruitless, religious activities.

With that said, many of you know I listen to many preachers on the radio (#RadioDudes) throughout the week and sadly, they rarely speak of good news. Instead, they speak of doom and gloom because they’re hung up on apocalyptic prophecy of end times, all the while neglecting the kingdom in the here and now. They perpetuate a moralistic message that leaves one wondering why God hasn’t wiped us off the earth already. It seems as though they make little effort in understanding humanity.  Rather, these men speak with malice and discontent through dogmatic irrelevance.

The paradigm of Christendom has not shifted…yet, but it’s coming. The curtain has not been pulled back fully on Christendom to reveal all who are causing the dissonance. As a result, we put pressure on pastors causing them to wonder if they’re good preachers or not, or whether they are successful or not, when those aren’t even the issues anymore. Sadly, they usually don’t understand their role within the context of Ephesians 4 and in relation to Jesus the Good Shepherd. As a result, we have what we have and it perpetuates cognitive dissonance.

I ask this of God often: “Lord, when will the scales fall off our eyes to see you with greater clarity?”

Consider this:

What good news are we proclaiming?

Are we making disciples as Jesus made disciples?

Will the new year be different and more kingdom like?


Photo credit: Lightspring/Shutterstock


blessed, favored and prosperous

Blessed, favored and prosperous.

Three words we (Christians) toss around loosely without understanding the oppressive pressure it places on people. We can thank a flawed prosperity theology for their misuse.

These are terms some Christians speak to each other without understanding they also carry a dangerously flawed perspective of the Christian life. I’ve been reading and meditating on the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount and the three words as we have used them terribly deviate from the words of Jesus.

Some time ago, someone “spoke” those three words to me and they sounded like this:

“Gibby, you are currently in an oppressive situation with your job. You need to know that you are blessed and favored of God. He has released you to prosper financially in a new job. Then you will receive more blessing and favor.”

Let me say the person who spoke this believed and meant it. Sadly, as a prophetic type, I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. Honestly, my job is not oppressive. Like any workplace there are issues to deal with and overcome, but I don’t despise my job or my coworkers.

Three thoughts came to mind as I continued to ponder the “prophetic word”:

Blessing is deeper than stuff. My stuff does not determine whether I am blessed or not.

Favor is deeper than a job or status. My job does not determine whether God favors me or not.

Prospering is deeper than finances. My finances do not determine whether I am prospering or not.

None of those three words in their flawed meanings define me. I don’t always get this right because I usually get in my own way.  Still, I hope to find my identity in Christ Jesus and him alone.

My friend , Kevin Copeland, who is now with Jesus, said it best in a conversation we had on this issue:

I live in an area way too close to Houston, so I hear a lot of Christians talk about being blessed and highly favored of the Lord. You live close to Fort Worth, so I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about. It doesn’t really take much to figure out that they equate “blessed” with “prosperity.” In fact, I know two people with “blessed” on their license tags. One drives a Cadillac and the other one a Jaguar. Oddly enough, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) And, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24) In addition, they equate “favor” with “popularity.” The way that it’s explained is that if someone has favor (popularity) among men, that it’s a direct result of them having favor with God. However, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23) And, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) Kinda seems like Jesus and some of his followers are saying the exact opposite thing. Christians claim that the rich and popular are blessed and highly favored of God. Christ proclaimed the poor and those who are hated, excluded, reviled and spurned are blessed, favored and rewarded by God; while proclaiming woes to the rich and popular. Kind of sounds to me like Christ and some of his followers aren’t quite on the same page. Be careful pointing that out though, because you will lose your favor and become hated, excluded, reviled and spurned.

Working off of what I say above regarding being blessed and favored, how that has become synonymous with being rich and popular, and what Christ said about being rich and popular as opposed to being poor and unpopular; I would like to take this a step further. What do we so often use as metrics for success within churches? Money and popularity. I know you and I both have been to several conferences where more than one pastor has approached us and one of the first things out of their mouth is, “How many are you running on Sunday mornings at your church?” Based on what Jesus said about the rich and the popular in Luke 6:24 & 26, I’m not sure Jesus would use money and popularity as a good metric to measure the success or health of a church community. He might be more likely to shoot a warning in their direction based on this passage. Did I go a step too far?

I agree with Kevin’s thoughts and share his sentiment. Now, to be clear neither of us is saying you should go and sell everything, or that it’s wrong to have stuff. The issue is whether we have stuff or if it has a hold of us. The issue is also whether our stuff and status are used for the sake of God’s kingdom, or for our own agenda.

Sadly, many will be offended by this post and ignore the opportunity to examine themselves deeply. Many will hate, exclude, revile and spurn me. Consider this post the warning shot across the bow. Maybe it’s time we step into this issue a bit further.

Photo by La Casa Youth Ministry.