Mesmerizing: It Is Clear To Me Now
Of all the symbols, images, sayings, and announcements on June 26, 2015; the day the Supreme Court of America ruled same-sex marriage legal across the nation, the illuminated caption of the White House in Gay Pride colored-lights captured and gripped my psyche the most. All of this should be expected. I am actually surprised at the Christians who are surprised by the ruling. I have no expectation for the Legislative, Judicial, or Executive governmental branches of America to operate under or uphold a biblical ethos or motif. That is the pure work of the church.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” Paul went on to say, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NLT).
The illuminated White House image made me pause in deep reflection. The symbolism of the image in the night sky was mesmerizing, coupled with all the national celebration. This narrative is not designed to squelch the jubilance of the LGBT community in legal victory, but I cannot help but wonder how or even if there was celebration in the White House when enslaved Blacks were allegedly set free, gained the right to vote, or the freedom to attend schools with White children? This article is not about race or race relations (I will be moving into the real subject soon), but since so many have connected the LGBT quest for rights with the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the response of celebration should be briefly considered and compared for National implication and citizenry. When Black people gained alleged American freedoms and rights, they were met with hate, bombings, lynchings, burnings, assassinations, brutality, and more. Not only that, but I doubt there was major celebration with an illuminated White House. This is a major difference in the response to all receiving equal rights.
Through my musings I am suddenly struck by the real plan. The issue of same-sex marriage legalization is not at the root of my concern. The law of God, His church, and family are under attack. This familial and spiritual attack did not start on June 26, 2015 and neither did it start in the San Francisco courts in 2004, championed by Gavin Newsom for the LGBT community and America. It started in the Garden of Eden. Satan works methodically and the church is losing. From a National, not biblical perspective, I think same-sex couples should be able to marry. Apart from the Kingdom, that is not for me to judge. However, my concern and alarm for the earthly Kingdom of God is in the realm of State-of-Emergency. What is happening to the zeal, zest, vibrancy, dedication, commitment, and spirit of the church?
Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In essence, evil will never push over or destroy the church. Regardless of how populated, the church will always stand and will never be dethroned. There will always be a called-out, sanctified, blood-bought, and redeemed group, operating under the Holy Spirit, known as the ecclesia. Yet again, the church is losing. What do I mean? The church will clearly win the ultimate war (the victory is already prophetically exclaimed and won through the shedding of blood through Jesus the Christ), but we are currently losing the fight. No, it is not the fact that we are losing the war on stopping sin in the world (that is not our fight); we are losing the fight Satan has unleashed upon the internal extremities of the body of Christ. Congregations are dying, disappearing, and many members are lethargic and gasping for air.
It is clear to me now how the devil has cunningly worked in my ministry and congregation. Sometimes you can be so thick in it, you can be blinded by the long-term implications, simply being overtaken by the events of the moment. The goal of the devil is to slowly and craftily chip away at what God has created. Lucifer, perhaps at times, displays more patience than the elect of God. The devil is a thief and Jesus said about him “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The goal of the devil is to steal one thing from our churches and you at a time. He does not need to make one big swoop all at once, he is comfortable with routine, methodic, and melodic small wins and jack-moves. Sometimes the wins can be so small you and I do not even notice until we are empty, wondering what happened. Where did it go? When did I stop?
I have been the preacher of the West Oakland church of Christ for almost 15 years. When I first arrived, the congregation was numerically smaller than it is now and struggling with retention, but it is also smaller today than it was 7 years ago. Today on any given Sunday we can have between 75-100 members. We are a small church, but we preach and teach a Word that is ripe for millions. However, what I realized is that in 2008, we averaged 126 members and on any given Sunday could have 140-150 in attendance.
I am not struck by numbers, but we would be foolish to not assess how the thief attempts his congregational plunder. It does not matter if your membership is 20 or 20,000, we must all be aware of even the smallest thing the devil is trying to steal, shift, or remove from congregations. This is germane because after the first theft, he returns for another, and another.
I started preaching for the West Oakland church of Christ in January of 2001, one week after my 30th birthday and in 2008 we saw our largest growth. The foundation for growth started in 2006 when we congregationally engaged in the deep and intense study of the first principles (Hebrews 5:12-6:1-3). In 2007 we shifted the fiber and function of our congregation, exploring the gifts of the church (Romans 12:6-8), and the importance of purpose and gifted-driven ministry for every member. In 2008 we ordained three elders at a standing ovation and our congregation was on fire. I could not see it, we could not see it, but it was close to that point that the devil began his attack. He actually began his attack in 2006, but again, who knew it would have lasting implications. The devil is infuriated with any form of spiritual success. Again, we are a small congregation, but you can use this story as a composite and case study to address a slow decline at any size congregation.
We went from a congregation that offered two Bible classes on Wednesday and two on Sunday, to six on Wednesday and six on Sunday. We are now back to offering two classes, and until the writing of this piece, there has never even been a substantive discussion about the subtle reverse to two classes. It just happened and with little to no outrage. I did not even realize how dramatic the shift was until I randomly listened to an old workshop I facilitated back in 2008 in Sacramento, on congregational development, detailing how we had reorganized our congregation and sparked a fire. What I said we had then, in some ways, we do not have today. Again, the devil chips away slowly and sometimes it is so slow and methodic, the church does not even realize she is being robbed.
In 2008 we went from a traditional adult class and new convert class structure (Sundays), Adult class and youth class (Wednesdays), to Wednesday/Sunday class offerings of 1) adults, 2) teenagers, 3) pre-teens, 4) pre-school, 5) new-convert, 6) new members to the congregation. We also had an educational ministry for toddlers and small children during worship that parents could take advantage of, if desired. We wanted every member in our congregation working and we created the platform for that to happen. A couple of years later we ordained deacons. In 2015, we are back to a two-class structure.
The subtlety of demonic thievery is slick, sometimes it is gone before you notice. Not only does this happen with formations of congregational ministries and their slow disappearance, it happens to the internal workings of individual Christians. First you stop attending Bible study, then its PM worship, then it’s a decline in personal Bible study, followed by a hampered prayer life. The next thing you know, you are in a far, foreign, and distant country spiritually, debating within yourself as to whether or not you should leave the church, take a break, or move your membership. Once the devil steals one thing, we are primed for him to steal the next, and his goal is to strip us naked of everything righteous. While many are overly concerned with the Supreme Court ruling of same-sex marriage legalization, you might want to check how the devil has been slowly stealing your spirituality and zest for God, your obedience to Him, and His work.
I will not get into the details because they are too delicate and painful, but by 2011 the devil was in full attack mode at our congregation. We were at war, fighting for our congregational life. I had no idea ministry could be so painful. Nobody told me ministry would hurt to the core of my soul. However, if someone would have explained the pain before I took the office, I would not have believed them. I grew up real quick in Christ, and today I am thankful for the attack (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Satan had chipped away at such a slow level, he then felt he could deliver a fatal blow. Again, the gates of hell will never prevail, but truly there were casualties of war during this spiritual and cosmic fight. During that process, Lucifer pulled off his greatest trick of deceit; he convinced members that their issue was with flesh and blood. Paul said “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). On a side note, church growth is important because when the church stops growing, members start chewing on each other.
When the devil begins his process of takeover, he must tantalize the minds of church members so they begin to focus, not on spiritual things, but on the carnal and tangible (flesh and blood). Thus suddenly as the preacher I became under attack, followed by the elders, as well as the deacons. The deception of demonic attack is that there is an unharmed person and a victim or victims. However, through the work of the devil, seductively he is trying to destroy the person who is perceived to be right and the person perceived to be wrong. He is out to victimize everyone. Satan is enmity, he is not friends with or loyal to any part of the fellowship; he wants it all destroyed.
Through the fight for congregational survival, feelings and families were hurt. It was a perfect storm and some left the church completely and some simply left the congregation. We are a small intimate congregation, so every maneuver, spat, contention, and departure was noticeable. In reality, this was exactly what the devil wanted and planned.
Beginning in 2006, the devil saw a body of believers on the move and establishing themselves for mighty Kingdom work, internally and externally. Satan was destined on destroying that potential. Nine years later, as a flock, we are still standing and in many ways thriving again. Church, be aware of the devilish plot, he is fine taking one member and one ministry at a time. Before you know it, you take a look back and it all adds up to one collective loss.
The story of the West Oakland church of Christ is not unique—I am just transparent and risky enough to share the Rated-G version of our story. In most similar situations either the preacher is fired or he resigns. I almost resigned because I thought it was in the best interest of the flock, until one of my beloved brothers explained to me that my resignation was precisely one of the goals of the devil. Churches are under attack and because of his melodic approach, some have not yet detected that he is in the midst of them, slowly stealing and burglarizing the House of God. Be careful, even the apparent small loss of a class or ministry seems affordable and un-impactful in the beginning, but over time the cumulative results can be taxing.
Lastly and with extreme importance, grab the boys of your church now and get them trained and ingrained in your congregation. The devil is after them viciously (but it is unseen) and we are far too casual about it. If he gets another generation of our boys, our girls will not have husbands, and our churches will not have preachers, elders, deacons, or faithful men. As I have said before, the devil is like a slow song; you end up nodding your head to the melodic rhythm and hypnotic voice, failing to realize it is just as carnal as the other music you refuse to listen to. Let’s wake up church and not allow the devil to steal another family, ministry, member, child, or righteous desire.