Saturday, April 25, 2009

How To Survive A Toxic Church

How can we be followers of Christ who extend grace to one another, yet stand firm for the faith and against sin? That was how I ended a blog post a few posts ago.

It is a question that deserves an answer. Grace is key to the Christian life. We are saved by the grace of God, not of works, so no one can boast about how great or how good they are. In additon, we must extend the grace that we have been given to others who are walking this path of faith with us.

The answer to extending grace and staning firm for the faith and against sin is simple, yet often overlooked in the life of a believer. Here it is, in just five short words:

Read the Bible and pray.

Yup. That's it.

Read the Bible and pray.

There is no magic formula. There is no special annointed prayer or sprinkling with magic water from the sea of Galilee. In order to extend grace and yet stand firm for truth and against sin, we must read the Bible and pray.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (New International Version)
"and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

It is by reading scripture, over and over and over again that we will begin to see through the errors of false doctrine. We will learn how to live for the Lord, and we will continually see the grace of God poured out on us while we were yet sinners. Not only that, but we will experience the continuing grace of God through our relationship with Jesus, even though we will still sin after salvation. This should give us much grace to give others, yet enable us to speak up and say when something is a sin and what the Word has to say about the sin, as well as what the Word has to say about righteous living.

And how/where does prayer fit into this?

James 5:16 (NIV)"...The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

If you know the Lord as your savior, then you have beome a righteous man, or woman, and your prayers are powerful and effective. Let me say it again, your prayers are POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE. Over the years I have met many, many, many Christians and a common denominater with many of them is the lack of an intense prayer life. Prayer is a chore, or a shopping list at best. It is the last thing we do, rather than the first thing we do. We pray for "little" things because we are afraid that God will not come through on the "big" things. We don't see our prayers as powerful and effective because we don't pray in a powerful and effective way. We spend our time asking God for a closer parking place at Wal-mart, when He wants us to park further away from the store so that on the walk in we might share our faith with someone, plant a seed of the gospel - yet we don't pray for that, so we don't see any power in our prayers or any effects.

Jesus chastised Peter, James & John because they could not pray for one hour, but we have a problem being able to pray for half of that, or even for ten minutes. Yet Paul tells us to pray much more than that. Here is what he says:

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NIV)"pray continually"

How do we do that? By having a continuous open communication with the Father. By keeping Him in the forefront of our minds. When I think of how many times I have prayed to God to get me out of a jam, only to realize that if I had prayed to start with there would be no jam!

You may be wondering how this relates to the title of this blog though, but all will be explained now, as I share a little of my history.

I was severly backslidden for about ten years. When I came back to the Lord, I prayed this sincere prayer more than once. It went something like this, "Lord, I know that I have learned a lot about You when I was a child, but I don't want to take any of that for granted. I want to make sure I know what I believe. I want to make sure I believe what I know. So please open up your Word to me, that I might see it with fresh and new eyes. Reveal to me if there is anything I used to beleive that is not right."

And then I began on a journey to read the Bible. First I read certain books over and over again (John & Acts several times), then I began to read through the Bible each year.

Eventually God began to show me that some things that the church(es) that I belonged to taught that was not in scripture. This was a long and painful process, and was not without it's own problems. When I raised questions, I was shot down and shunned. I developed a reputation for being un-conventional and rocking the boat. Eventually, I left the church(es) that I was familar with. This was not easy. I was saved and baptized in one of their churches. I met my wife in one of their churches. I surrendered to the ministry in one of their churches. I was ordained in one of their churches. The first church I pastored was one of their churches. There was a loooong history here.

But as grateful as I was (and still am) for all they did for me spiritually, the time had come where they had moved from a help to a hindrance. The area of their teaching that was toxic was infecting myself and my whole family. (For those who are curious as to the teaching that I could no longer follow, I will let you know what it is in a private email if you would like, but will not do so in a public forum such as this blog).

Now I realize that with many toxic churches the "victim" is a new believer, and so they are unlearned and still a baby in the Lord. However, I stand by the formula for growth, and that is Bible reading and prayer. As the infant in Christ grows, then they will be led by the Spirit as they spend time with Christ in the Word and in communication. Will it hurt? Probably. Growing up is not without it's pains, but the affects of remaining in a toxic church and in a stage of stunted growth will hurt more in the long run.

Read the Word.


God is faithful and He will honor your commitment in theset two areas.

Ok, next blog will be a little lighter. We will discuss the new name for the blog.

Still following Jesus,
Pastor Dave

Monday, April 20, 2009

On The Eighth Day God Created Rock 'n' Roll

Ok, weird post, and for those enquiring minds, I am going to continue my post about toxic churches.....soon, I promise.

I love rock 'n' roll. Always have. My earliest memories of music are of my Mom watching Elvis movies on tv. I soon discovered my Dad had records by Fats Domino and The Platters. Before long, The Beatles arrived through the screams of my older sister. By 1971 my world was emmersed in rock 'n' roll. Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Bad Compan, BTO, ELO, The Stones, Clapton and more.

Fast forward several years and I discovered Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Love Song, Don Fransisco, Darrell Mansfield, Chuck Girard and all the way to Stryper, Bloodgood, Guardian, Whitecross, Whiteheart, Petra and more.

I know I could live without a tv (because I have) and without the computer (because I have), but without's never happened.

I have decided today to go on a secular music fast. Not sure for how long, but it starts now. Now that is not the same as doing without music alltogether as I have quite a bit of music that is done by Christians, for Christians - if you know what I mean.

I have done this before. Sometimes for a day, a week, a month, and one time for over a year.

I'm curious if any of you have done so, and if so, for how long? What were the benefits? Any "withdrawal" symptoms? Any of you given up secular music alltogether? If so, have you also given up secular television, books and movies?

I'm not trying to put anyone under any kind of law here, just wanting to know what your thoughts and your experiences are. I know that at times, secular entertainment has hurt my walk with Christ. In my past there were "triggers" that would trip me up, which I can now spot.

I know this subject has been debated ad nausem, but I am curious to see what some of you might think.

I know what the scriptures say, but sometimes the problem comes in where the rubber meets the road of our daily lives.

I would like to get feedback concerning the following verses in connection with the thought of secular entertainment.

Matthew 15:17-19 (New International Version)
"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

John 17:15–16 (ESV)
15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Now, I know that there is the argument that there is no division between sacred and spiritual for the beleiver, and I fully understand the premise behind such a statement, yet we cannot ingore the fact that some things are better for our spiritual growth than others. Some things draw us closer to Christ, others drive us away, or at the very least these things may put a barrier up that interferes with our relationship with the Lord.

The seed of this fast came from reading a book.

This book:


If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do is thought provoking.

Looking forward to your thoughts, on the subject of fasting, or on fasting from secular entertainment in its various forms, or the subject of the secular vs. the sacred, or thoughts on the book if you have read it.

Pastor Dave

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I've been preaching now for almost 25 years.

I pastored my first church about 16 years ago, and was there for five years.

I just completed my fourth year in October 2008 at Loma Rica Baptist church.

Give or take a Sunday or two, that means I have preached over 200 messages in the last four and a half years.

I say all of this to give a little bit of perspective to what I am about to post here.

Last Sunday I preached a "normal" Easter message. This week I was back in the book of Hebrews as part of our onging series of messages through the book of Hebrews. In my opinion, both last week and this weeks messages were "flops".

My wife told me that last weeks message "rocked". I realize she might be biased, but beleive me, she will tell me when she thinks I did a "stinker", so I trust her judgement.

But it doesn't change my personal opinion of how I viewed the message.

Out of all the sermons I have ever preached, I have only been given negative criticism once....and that was about 20 years ago, and the part they didn't like is that I spoke well of Billy Graham, and they were upset because Billy had shaken hands with the Pope (yeah, I know what you're thinking, but I'm not making this up, it really happened...they were very upset about that & me speaking highly of Billy wonder we Christians have a bad reputation with a lot of people).

Anyway, this has made me think today about this. Just what makes a sermon good or bad? The message itself? The preacher? The delivery? The special effects? The humor? References to the original languages? Funny stories? What? Have you ever heard a great sermon from a bad speaker? Have you ever heard what seemed like a great message, yet couldn't remember any of it the next day? Have you ever told a preacher the message was good, when you know it really wasn't?

I take preaching very serious, but I don't take myslef serious. I'm a goof. I tell stupid jokes. I make lots of mistakes. Sometimes I fight with my wife and/or my family before we leave for church...I know shocking isn't it.

And yet every once in awhile, someone comes along and shares what a particualr message meant to them. Or someone comes and wants to know bout salvaion, or about how they want a closer walk with the Lord. These are precious times.

Still, when you preach and you feel unconnected to the people, or when you feel as though your words are falling to the ground like they are made of concrete, you wonder if you are doing any good.

But I know that through all of the faults, the failures, the foibles, the fallings, that God has called me to preach. I read the scriptures and sometimes the message just jumps out at me...with the words right on my lips.

I don't even know exactly why I'm posting this particualr blog. I meant to get back to the continuation of the last entry, and I will get to that, but I just felt like I had to get this off of my chest. I don't know maybe it is just the rambings of a tired pastor.

Ok, thanks for reading.
Pastor Dave

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Used To Go To Church

If I had a quarter for each time that I have heard the above statement, I would be a wealthy man today. It seems that as soon as someone knows that I am a pastor, they feel the need to explain why they don’t go to church any longer.

While I have gotten used to hearing “I used to go to church” from a wide variety of people, I have never gotten used to hearing why they no longer go. With very few exceptions, the reason given always has to do with an unhealthy church experience. These unhealthy church experiences are not easy to categorize. They usually include a variety of experiences, from emotional pain, cliques, heartbreak, betrayal, hypocrisy, and the list could go on and on. One thing that seems to be a common thread woven amongst all of the stories is this: legalism.

Now it has been my experience that as soon as you bring up the word, “legalism”, someone begins to think that you are going soft on discipleship and Christian living. I do not consider myself as soft on either of those things, rather I believe we should be hard, or heavy with grace. I believe that if we claim to belong to Jesus, then others have the right to expect that we will live lives worthy of the high calling we have received, and that includes celebrating the grace we have received as well as extending that grace to others.

Several years ago Steve Arterburn wrote a book called, “Toxic Faith” which addressed the issue of unhealthy churches. As much as I like the book, I have always felt that the title is misleading. It is not the faith that is toxic, rather it is the unhealthy church that is toxic.

A legalist is always easy to spot. You can see them constantly checking out their “legal” list to see if you and I are measuring up to their “do’s” and “don’ts” of the Christian life, usually with a heavy emphasis on the “don’ts”.

They remind me of the Galatians that Paul wrote to in Galatians 3:1-3 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I strongly believe that even though we do not become sinless once we are born again, I do believe that as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with Christ we should sin less.

If God has enough grace to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9), then surely we should be able to have enough grace to extend to each other as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

How can we be followers of Christ who extend grace to one another, yet stand firm for the faith and against sin? That will be addressed in the next post.

Still following Jesus,
Pastor Dave