The Impotence of Safe Zones and Safe Churches

Safe Zones

A dark and disturbing trend is descending over institutions of higher learning in our land of the free and home of the brave. Students are demanding “safe zones” on college campuses, where they can be shielded from uncomfortable or dissenting viewpoints. In these so-called, safe places, ideas that might offend are unwelcome. The free exchange of differing viewpoints – free speech as our founding fathers called it – is deemed less important than an environment that doesn’t offend.

Safe ZoneThe sad irony is that safe zones in places of higher learning undermine the very purpose of those places. It is the free exchange of ideas – even offensively different ideas – that encourages growth and learning. How can iron sharpen iron when there is no clashing of thought? Safe zones produce weak minds. It is the conflict that produces growth.

Safe Churches

I’ve heard a lot of chatter recently in religious circles about safe places, safe zones and safe conversations. One pastor has openly declared that his church is a “safe church.” It’s bad enough that hypersensitivity about offending someone has infiltrated schools and workplaces.  But when that attitude creeps into the church, we are in danger of losing our effectiveness.

While I certainly don’t advocate purposely being offensive or confrontational, we mustn’t forget that the truth does indeed confront.   The truth confronts religious tradition. The truth confronts humanism. It confronts sin. Jesus said, “Speak the truth in love.” Such a statement is unnecessary unless the truth has the potential to offend someone.

There is no conversion without conflict.

Many religious leaders have become so obsessed with not offending anyone that they have become spiritually impotent. If your message is so “safe” that no one could possibly object, then it’s too safe to make any real impact.

We shouldn’t purposefully make the message offensive, but the true message will offend some. And if it offends no one, then it has been so diluted that it has lost its power to convert. There is no conversion without conflict. There is no revelation without adversity – just ask John the revelator.

GospelIt wasn’t a watered-down, safe, palatable message of Jesus that caused some to walk away, and at the same time, others to say, “Where else could we go? Only You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus taught some hard sayings. Some rejected Jesus, some accepted Jesus, but rarely, if ever, was anyone indifferent. People were usually either forsaking all to follow Him or picking up stones to kill Him. Some cried, “we’ve never heard this kind of teaching.” Others cried, “blasphemy!”

Revival or Riot?

I’ve often heard people say of the apostles and early church, “Everywhere they went it was revival or riot!” That’s actually not true. It was revival and riot. Think about it. At the same time, it was revival and riot. Their message was so powerful some surrendered all and were converted. Others took up stones to kill them or tried to run them out of town. When’s the last time anyone tried to run us out of town for our message? I’m not advocating that we be purposefully divisive or confrontational. I’m just afraid we’ve become so worried about offending that our message has lost its power to convert.

Safe conversations don’t produce conversions. Safe places don’t have revival. Safe congregations are just places where people congregate.

No Conversion without Conflict

I’ll never forget something I heard from pastor Marrell Cornwell. He said we avoid the conflict. We avoid teaching or preaching parts of the Word that might make someone uncomfortable. When dealing with a potential convert, we like to highlight the blessings of being a Christian, but hide the demands or requirements in the fine print. We avoid telling them the Truth when it might clash with their ideology. We delay sharing the “hard sayings” until we’ve loved them long enough and they love us deep enough that they won’t walk away. What pastor Cornwell said is so profound. He said, “It is the conflict that produces conversion.” We’re avoiding the very thing that produces a true disciple.

We’re reluctant to say, “Yes, baptism must be in Jesus’ Name.” Or, “Yes you must be filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.” We delay as long as possible the talk of holiness or marital fidelity or how fornication is not pleasing to God. We avoid conflict. Yet, we are avoiding the very thing that brings conversion.

“How dare you tell me I was baptized wrong!” “Are you telling me my grandmother wasn’t saved?” “I think all religions just lead to the same place – I can’t accept that Jesus is the only way!” We shy away from conversations that might lead to such responses. But, in doing so, we are shying away from the very thing that produces a convert. There is no conversion without a crisis of faith. It’s the clashing of realities – the painful awareness of one’s lost-ness – that brings conversion. The acceptance of the truth rarely happens without first, a rejection and an offense.

The Early Church

Look at Paul! He kicked against the pricks. He fought the Way. He resisted the Truth. When he finally came face to face with the One, the pillars of his entire religious upbringing came crashing down. But it was the conflict, the crises, and the painful realization that his truth had been error, which brought him to conversion. And what a convert he made!

Too many modern Christians are so afraid of making people uncomfortable that there is nothing in their message that might prick the heart. In safe churches there is no talk of sin, judgment, repentance or the coming of the Lord. But there is no conversion without a pricking of the heart. Just look at the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost.

Speaking in TonguesI heard recently of a so-called, apostolic church that frowns upon anyone speaking in tongues during their services. Spiritual gifts are stifled. In the attempt to be a seeker sensitive, safe church, nothing is done that might appear odd or strange to an unbeliever. On the Day of Pentecost the perturbed crowd cried, “What meaneth this?” But the “What meaneth this” turned into “What must we do?”

There is no birth without pain and conflict. No one is converted without a “passing away” of old things. And a passing away is never easy. There’s always pain involved. There’s always separation involved.

Safe places are impotent. Safe sermons are powerless. Safe churches don’t produce real converts. They are so afraid of running people off that no-one is running to Jesus. May God give us the courage to speak the truth in love. May we preach the truth without fear or favor – for only the Truth can set men free.

~Matthew Ball

Philippians on Friday: The Leadership Famine

Thanks for joining me today for our weekly devotion in Philippians. 

Philippians 2:19-21 – But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.

 I’m sure I’m not the only one who has looked at the current political landscape and thought, “Is this the best we’ve got?” I’m routinely grieved by the apparent shortage of strong, moral, capable leaders.

Philippians

It seems everyday we hear about another incident of corruption, immorality or greed by some C.E.O, politician, judge, or coach. Sometimes I read about decisions or choices that leaders in our society are making and wonder, “Have people lost all common sense?” We are experiencing a drought of quality leadership.

I know a shortage of quality leaders is nothing new. Every generation has searched for people willing to rise to the challenges of the day and lead with character and integrity.

In Paul’s words to the Philippians we can sense some degree of frustration. It seems there’s a short list of people willing or qualified to care for the church at Philippi – people who were unselfish and willing to look on the things of Christ.

“For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.”

Where was Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Demas? You can almost feel Paul’s disappointment that there weren’t more people willing and able to care for the church.

Jesus never said, “Pray for the harvest!” Rather, His prayer request was that we “Pray for the laborers!”

Luke 10:2 – Threfore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few.  Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.

So what is the answer to a shortage of leaders? What was Paul’s answer? He called on Timothy. Paul sent the young man that he had personally invested in. He sent his son in the faith.

Leadership Development

The answer to the drought of quality leaders is to be intentional about developing leaders! Investing in people and pouring into people is the way to assure a steady supply of quality leaders for tomorrow. While it may not do much to help the current shortage, it will certainly revolutionize our future.

The answer to a shortage of leaders is to be intentional about leadership development.

I was recently standing on the platform of our new second church campus bellyaching to God. While others were worshipping during that service, I was silently informing God that if He would just send us some quality musicians, singers, teachers, soul-winners and ready-to-serve workers, then we could really grow our new campus!

I’ll never forget what God spoke to my heart. He said, “look.” As I scanned that small crowd of 50 or 60 people, God said, “Everything you need is sitting right in front of you. You just need to pour into them. You just need to develop the gifts and talents that I put in them!”

So the answer to a shortage of leaders is to be intentional about leadership philippiansdevelopment. We must ever be pouring into others. The reason Timothy was “like-minded” was that he had Paul’s spirit. And that was because Paul had personally invested in Timothy.

Developing leaders is not just for pastors or business executives. Parents, let us pour our lives into our children. Teachers, may we pour ourselves into our students. Saints of God, let us invest into the lives of new believers around us. No matter who we are or what we do, we can all help assure there are sufficient laborers who are willing and ready to be sent into the Harvest!

~Matthew Ball

Philippians on Friday: If the Lord Wills…

Thanks for joining me for our Friday devotion!  Today we’re looking again at Philippians 2:19:

“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you…”

The New Living Translations reads:

“ If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you….”

philippiansIt sure seems like a good idea. It makes total sense to send Timothy to the Philippians, doesn’t it? Timothy is my son in the faith. I trust Timothy. He is one of the few men in my life who is like-minded.  It seems logical for me to send Timothy as a messenger to Philippi.

But Paul prefaced his statement about sending Timothy to the Philippians with the words,

“If it’s the Lord’s will…”

Paul had lived for God long enough to know that just because something seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the will of God.

Paul had come to learn that every decision should be made after seeking God’s guidance and direction. He had learned the wisdom in always asking, “Lord, is this Your will?” I’m certain Paul was well acquainted with Isaiah’s words:

Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts.

Paul was wiser at this point of his ministry. When he was younger he assumed it a good thing to go preach in Asia and Bithynia, but the Spirit forbade him!

Acts 16:6-7: Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

Why did the Spirit forbid them? It wasn’t the will of God. God knows. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. We would do well to never assume to know the answer or the course of action but to always seek after God’s will.

“If the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise…”

Obviously, Paul did preach in Asia at some point because the scriptures tell us that all of Asia heard the Word of God. But in Acts 16, it wasn’t the right time. Some things may ultimately be God’s will but perhaps not God’s will right now. God’s timing is perfect, just like His ways are perfect.

I’ve heard the old-timers use the disclaimer, “If the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise…” Their wisdom comes from the scripture:

James 4:15 – For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. KJV

Too many people are haphazard with the will of God. I’m afraid some go weeks or months or years without seeking the will of God. They don’t pause long enough to ask the question, “Is this the Lord’s will?” They make decisions without giving thought to God’s plan and purpose.

When we say, “Lord willing,” we are acknowledging that God’s plan is important to philippiansus and we are seeking to know for sure if the decision we’re contemplating is His will. By saying, “Lord willing,” we are demonstrating that He is in control of our lives and His will always trumps our own.  When we say, “Lord willing,” we are confessing that only God knows what tomorrow holds.

I think we’ve all experienced the trouble that follows making decisions without seeking God’s will. We’ve learned that hard way that God’s way is best.  Don’t assume anything. Our plans should always come with the footnote, “If it’s the Lord’s will.” Before every decision, every move, every step, seek God. Ask Him to reveal His will.  He will not hide it from you. He delights in revealing His plan to those who ask.

~Matthew Ball

Philippians on Friday: Stay Positive!

Thanks for joining me for our Friday devotion!  Today we’re looking at Philippians 2:19:

Philippians 2:19: But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.

PhilippiansPaul is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison. He was living in a day when communication was drastically different. Paul had no cell phone. He had no access to email or social media. There was no post office to deliver a package or letter. The only way Paul could find out how the Philippians were doing was by sending a messenger. So Paul sent Timothy to Philippi to see how the church was faring.

Paul was anticipating a good report even though he had not personally checked on the Philippians in some time. The New International Version says is like this:

“…that I may be cheered when I hear your state.”

He expects to rejoice when he hears about their condition. Obviously, a negative report would not have brought him joy. So it’s clear he was anticipating hearing good things from Timothy about the Philippians.

PhilippiansDon’t you love positive people? Don’t you love people who are always expecting the best and looking for the best? Paul was like that.

Some people are just the opposite. They always anticipate bad news and come to expect the worst in people and in situations.  Some people I know would have written the message like this:

I’m sending Timothy to you. I expect he’ll bring back a disappointing report. I’m sure things are falling apart in Philippi.  “

People like that are draining. They sap your faith and energy. Furthermore, no one wants to hang around those kind of people.

We don’t want to be naïve nor turn a blind eye to real issues, but we can choose to keep a positive outlook. Choose to look for the best in people. Choose to anticipate the best in situations because we tend to get what we expect over time.

We tend to get what we expect over time.

The Philippians were not perfect. They had a lot of growing up to do. They were still somewhat young in their faith. Paul was not blind to the fact that the Philippians had plenty of maturing to do. Yet he still was expecting to hear a report that would bring him joy.

Leadership Note

Great leaders make a conscious choice to focus on the good. Paul could have focused on what was wrong with the Philippians. He could have been fixated on all that still needed improvement.  But he chose to focus on what was right with the Philippians. Great leaders have that quality.

Warding off Discouragement

Paul’s positive attitude inoculated him against discouragement. A key to joy is keeping a positive attitude and staying focused on the good.  Our enemy tries to get us so focused on what is wrong in our lives that we fail to see what’s right in our lives.

How’s your outlook? What are you focused on? What do you see in people and in situations? A key to effective leadership and personal joy is keeping the right attitude.

~Matthew Ball

Racism: Please Don’t Answer the Door!

Racism, division, and offense are at the door – don’t let them in.

Revelation 3:20 – 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock…

Jesus was knocking on the door of the Laodicean church. He desired to enter into His church.  He’s still knocking on the door today.  He desires to come into our lives.  Jesus wants to be front and center in our local assemblies.  He wants to be in the middle of our lives.  He wants to come into our homes and sit at our tables.

racismBut I don’t think Jesus was the only one knocking on the door of the Laodiceans in the Book of Revelation. Neither is Jesus the only one knocking today. Racism and division are at the church’s door. Hatred, conflict, and offense are seeking entrance into our lives and homes.  Don’t answer! Don’t open the door! Whatever you do, don’t let these spirits of hell into your church, home, or mind.

I’ve never witnessed so much divisiveness in our country and world. Racial tensions are at a boiling point. Political polarization threatens to tear our country in half. Animosity among different ethnicities is escalating. Division and offense have metastasized into outright hatred among fellow Americans.

Our deeply divided world should be able to look to the church and see blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, rich and poor, democrats and republicans all worshipping together as one family.

Spirits of division and conflict have been unleashed by hell upon our nation. It is a sign of the end-times. Jesus spoke of wars and rumors of wars. He foretold of nations rising against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms. But don’t limit this prophetic statement to physical wars between sovereign nations. Jesus was speaking of conflict, hatred, and divisiveness. Could “nations” also represent nationalities?  Could “kingdoms” refer to groups or races of people? I think so.  Especially in light of the rest of Jesus’ teaching concerning the last days. He spoke of hatred, affliction, killing, offense, and betrayal. We’ve always interpreted “the love of many shall wax cold” as meaning the love Christians have for God. Could it also refer to the love we have toward our fellowman waxing cold?

However one interprets Jesus’ teaching concerning the last days, it’s undeniable that hellish spirits of division and hatred are running rampant. These spirits are manipulating politics, government, social media, news, and even conversation around the dinner table or water cooler. These are the spirits of our hour.  They have successfully infected the world around us with their toxic and contagious agendas.

While we may not be able to stem the tide of division in the world, we can certainlyracism stand at the door of our churches and refuse admittance. Rest assured the spirits of this world are trying to get into the church. They are knocking and I’m afraid some have opened the door.  We must diligently guard against worldliness creeping into the church.

We’ve typically thought of worldliness as being short skirts, cleavage, and bling. While these things are worldly and are inconsistent with sound Bible teaching, worldliness simply means “like the world.” So if a church is filled with strife and division, then the church is, in essence, worldly. If racism exists in the church, then the church has become worldly.  The church is not to be like the world. The spirits so prevalent in the world are not supposed to be in the church.

Jesus said, “The prince of this world cometh, but hath nothing in Me.” Jesus was in the world but not of the world. Jesus was in the world, but the world was not in Him! We have no choice but to be in the world. We can choose, however, to not let the world in us. Don’t let the spirits of this age into your life and home. Don’t let the worldly spirits of conflict and animosity creep into your mind and heart.

We have no choice but to be in the world. We can choose, however, to not let the world in us.

The church stands as a beacon of light in a dark world. God created us to be a people of brotherly love and unity that stand juxtapose to racism and divisiveness. The church is supposed to be a model of how people of different races, ethnicities, and political parties can be joined together in love as one body. Our deeply divided world should be able to look to the church and see blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, rich and poor, democrats and republicans all worshipping together as one family.

How can I keep spirits of racism, offense and animosity out of my life?

1. Don’t Be Deceived

The enemy is a master at deception. The spirits running rampant in our world thrive on deception. It is the Truth that makes us free. Is there injustice in our culture? Yes. Are there legitimate cases of abuse of power? Absolutely.  Are some people treated unfairly? You bet. But:

  • not every democrat is ungodly
  • not every police officer is racist
  • not every traffic stop is racial profiling
  • not every comment is racially motivated
  • not every republican is a bigot
  • not every black male is up to no good
  • not every white person is racist
  • not every thing you read on the web or Facebook is true
  • not every person wearing a hoodie is a thug
  • and we could go on and on and on.

The spirits of this world are shouting their divisive rhetoric so loudly that often we can’t discern the truth. Listen to what God is speaking not what the world is speaking.

2.  Be Careful what you Feed your Spirit

If you feed your mind all day long with divisive and racial charged blogs, social media posts, and news it will affect you negatively. So follow Paul’s advice to the Philippians:

Philippians 4:8-9 (KJV) – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things…..and he God of peace shall be with you.

3.  Open the Door to Jesus

Don’t answer the door when division and strife come knocking. But do open the door to the Lord! Invite Him into every facet of your life, church, and home. Seek to emulate His love, compassion, humility, and longsuffering. The more we are like Christ, the better will we be able to live in this world, but not like this world.

~Matthew Ball