Devotionals

16 Dangers of the 'Positive Christianity' Movement

Are we are forming a culturally acceptable version of God?

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. —Exodus 32:4-6

I'll begin by affirming that God absolutely is LOVE! He is good, all the time. However, his goodness may not always register as good on our human grid.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. —1 Corinthians 2:14

There is a rapidly growing aversion to any discussion about God that includes anything that feels negative. The problem? Cover to cover in Scripture we see endless accounts of God displaying His attributes—many of which would not be defined as positive.

Instead of proclaiming the full counsel of Scripture, people today are looking for a buffet Bible when they can load up on chocolate cake and milk shakes while quickly stepping by the peas, carrots and salad.

People want to form a god of their own design as the Israelites did when Moses was meeting with a fearful God. The plan is to sit down to eat and drink and rise up to play.

Today it's nearly impossible (not an exaggeration) to find a church that preaches cutting, hard-core truths of Scripture that break us out of prison and into freedom. If you want to hear about how good God is and little else, then you can pick most any church in the nation.

"If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified." ~Leonard Ravenhill

Sixteen dangers of the 'positive Christianity' movement

False conversions—I could spend a lot of time on this point, and I do address it extensively in my book The Coming Church. For the sake of brevity, we must finally come to the understanding that salvation requires an extreme step—not a casual one. It's when we understand the great drama that includes God, Satan, eternity, heaven, hell, judgment and abundant life that authentic conversions can occur. Who wouldn't sign up to follow a God that promises gold coins and butterflies? The question must not be, "How can I benefit from salvation." It has to be, "Is God worthy of my surrendering all I value to Him?" When we truly know Him in His fullness, in His grace and wrath, in His mercy and judgment, as a Lion and a Lamb, we will be able to make the fearful decision, "You, Lord are worthy of my entire life."

Misunderstanding of the fear of the Lord—It's stunning to me that so many are renouncing any fear whatsoever, even the fear of the Lord! If we have a view of God that is only positive, we will reject anything that feels negative, and this includes the fear of the Lord. Let's set the record straight—the fear of the Lord is not simply to be in awe of God or to respect Him. Fear of the Lord is translated over and over as terror, to be afraid, to dread. The love of God and the dread of God are not mutually exclusive. In fact, His love shines brighter we we realize how fearful He truly is.

That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. —Romans 11:20-22

God is limited—When we eliminate a major part of God's personality and character, we greatly limit our revelation of Him and His ability to move in our lives. God is much more than the leader of some euphoric land of fantasy.

Rejection of judgment (that we need so badly)—I believe one of the most important prayers I can pray is, "God, judge me daily." For those who reject God's judgment because they perceive it to be negative, their lives will be marked by areas not given access to God's loving calibration. Additionally, our nation is in desperate need of loving judgment from a righteous judge. Judgment is not hatred; it's love. It is deep love. We see this in our own society. We are so touchy-feely that we react in anger when we presume someone to be judging us. However, it's true love that will judge an issue and help someone break free into healing. We must embrace judgment in these dire end times.

 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. —Acts 10:42

Rejection of God—This is one of the most serious issues. God absolutely still judges in the New Covenant, and those who reject this will be at risk of attributing judgments of God to Satan. God's wrath is still on the Earth, and we have to understand that much of the trouble we see today has actually been initiated by God—all while many of His followers are rebuking Him and calling Him Satan.

 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. —John 3:36

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit—Even more serious is the risk of blasphemy. I believe we have to be radically opposed to God to fall into this unforgivable sin (I know many wrestle with this, but unpacking it will require more time than we have here), but, the "positive Christianity" movement can nudge people closer to falling into this. When we attribute an act of God to Satan, that is blasphemy, and this occurs often within "positive Christianity."

"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit." —Mark 3:28-30

Ignoring calls to battle—If we think God is mostly interested in our safety and happiness, we will deem unnecessary and invasive any call to battle. It's time we mature and understand we are already in the midst of a vicious battle, and it's our calling to fight hard. God really is OK with His children being tortured and killed as martyrs for the sake of other people discovering Jesus, and we should be too. We are end-time soldiers, and this means we have signed up for a life of inconvenience, brokenness and struggle. That negative reality is glorious when we understand what it is unto.

Misinterpretations of negative situations—News flash: It's not always the devil. How often do people rebuke demons when it's actually God Who caused the situation? If we think that God only functions positively, then what are we to do with the fact that God actually demonized Paul and refused his deliverance? What about God striking people with sickness? 

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. —2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God actually endorsed an assault of Satan on Paul to keep him humble! Paul embraced a "negative" God, because He was True. He was content with weaknesses, hardships, calamities. He didn't rebuke them, and that didn't cause him to attribute them to Satan. Of course, Satan wouldn't want to keep Paul from becoming conceited, so this wasn't his plan. Just as with Job, God will allow attacks of the enemy for our own benefit. In fact, it was Satan who was allowed by God to kill Jesus. He literally had thorns in His flesh as He hung on the cross, and they were not taken away.

Minimized need for intercession—If we think things are getting better and better, as many who support the "positive Christianity" movement do, than we have no need to intercede. However, if we truly understand that some very troubling times are ahead, and God has called us to stand in the gap, then our passion for intercession will skyrocket. We need Abrahams and Jonahs who will see the judgment of God ahead and pray with passion and warn those in its direct path. Our God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, totally destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. He destroyed the Earth in a flood. His wrath remains on those who reject Him today.

Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." —Genesis 18:32

Rejection of call to martyrdom—Martyrdom is the pinnacle of negative experiences for the Christian. Of course, the truth is that it's not negative at all. It's glorious!

 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. —Acts 7:54-58 

How powerful is it that Jesus stood as Stephen died! Not only that, but did you notice what young man was mentioned in the story? A young man who would end up turning the world upside down. Saul. Paul. We need Stephens to arise and lay down their lives in such a way that a new company of Sauls are awakened into their destinies.

Universalism—You'd be surprised at how many professing Christians reject any thought of eternity in hell—for anybody! After all, how could a good God cast people into eternal torment? It doesn't register on the grid of "positive Christianity."

Rejection of tenets of the faith—I'm angered at how many of today's Christians get sad and withdrawn when core tenets of the faith are preached. The cross, hell, fear of the Lord, surrender, brokenness and repentance are minimized as they prefer to focus on how giddy God is about them! We absolutely need a fresh wave of Blood-bought fire-and-brimstone preachers again!

Wrongly discern God's presence and purpose—The presumption is that whenever God is manifesting that the feelings we experience are to be happy, warm and positive. Any manifestation that includes fear of the Lord, conviction, rebuke, challenge or mourning is soundly rejected. If the atmosphere isn't electric, many today check out and disengage.

Using God—A spirit of religion is in this "positive Christianity" movement. The thought is that God is there for our enjoyment and must respond to our cries for satisfaction. We determine the experience instead of letting God use us as He sees fit.

Self-centeredness—Related to using God, instead of focusing on the devastation in the world and our responsibility to bring resolution to it, those in the "positive Christianity" movement are focused on self.

Forsaking our anointing by always being nice—Boy, we have to stop this. We think God always has perma-smile with a twinkle sparkling off of His grin. If we think of God in this light, we'll attempt to do the same. It can manifest many different ways. For example, instead of boldly preaching repentance and the terror of hell, we might just smile and be sweet and sugary by encouraging people to take baby steps toward Jesus. We have become so tentative and passive when dealing with severe threats against the church, such as the homosexual agenda, the false-grace movement and others. We need prophets to rise up and preach judgment and repentance again!

Sometimes we need to look someone in the eye, under the unction of the Holy Spirit, and say with no hint of a smile that they are destined for hell. Repent!

Conclusion

Of course, there are limitless positives about God and our relationship with Him. However, we don't want to stop there. We must trust Him enough to embrace Him in His fullness.

The judge is coming, and He will start with the church. How many will fall away when He arrives, disappoints and confuses people by looking nothing like the god of their own design?

John Burton has been developing and leading ministries for over 20 years and is a sought-after teacher, prophetic messenger and revivalist. He has authored nine books, has appeared on Christian television and radio and directed one of the primary internships at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Additionally, he planted two churches, has initiated two city prayer movements and is currently directing a prayer- and revival-focused ministry school in Detroit called theLab University. John also has a web- and graphic-design business and is continually developing new and exciting ventures. He and his beautiful wife, Amy, have five children and live in the Detroit area. He can be reached via his website at JohnBurton.net.

Devotionals

14 Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders

Most church leaders are godly and healthy. A toxic church leader, one that is figuratively poisonous to the organization, is rare.

But it is that church leader who brings great harm to churches and other Christian organizations. And it is that leader that hurts the entire cause of Christ when word travels about such toxicity.

In a post from last week, I noted the traits of long-term, healthy pastors. I now travel to the opposite extreme and provide symptoms of the worst kind of ministerial professionals, toxic church leaders.

1. They rarely demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Paul notes those specific attributes in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. You won't see them much in toxic leaders.

2. They seek a minimalist structure of accountability. Indeed, if they could get away with it, they would operate in a totally autocratic fashion, with heavy, top-down leadership.

3. They expect behavior of others they don't expect of themselves. "Do as I say, not as I do."

4. They see almost everyone else as inferior to themselves. You will hear them criticizing other leaders while building themselves up.

5. They show favoritism. It is clear that they have a favored few, while they marginalize the rest.

6. They have frequent anger outbursts. This behavior takes place when they don't get their way.

7. They say one thing to some people but different things to others. This is a soft way of saying they lie.

8. They seek to dismiss or marginalize people before they attempt to develop them. People are means to their ends; they see them as projects, not God's people who need mentoring and developing.

9. They are manipulative. Their most common tactic is using partial truths to get their way.

10. They lack transparency. Autocratic leaders are rarely transparent. If they get caught abusing their power, they may have to forfeit it.

11. They do not allow for pushback or disagreement. When someone does disagree, he or she becomes the victim of the leader's anger and marginalization.

12. They surround themselves with sycophants. Their inner circle thus often includes close friends and family members, as well as a host of "yes people."

13. They communicate poorly. In essence, any clarity of communication would reveal their autocratic behavior, so they keep their communications unintelligible and obtuse.

14. They are self-absorbed. In fact, they would unlikely see themselves in any of these symptoms.

Yes, toxic leaders are the distinct minority of Christian leaders. But they can do harm to the cause of Christ disproportionate to their numbers. And they can get away with their behavior for years because they often have a charismatic and charming personality. Charming like a snake.

Do you know of any toxic church leaders? Do these symptoms seem familiar?

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

Devotionals

Pastors to Houston Mayor: Don't Mess With Texas Pulpits

Christians across the nation are mobilizing to defend a group of Houston pastors who were ordered by the city to turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity issues or Houston mayor. Their message is simple: Don't Mess with Texas Preachers.

Dave Welch, the executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, is one of the five ministers who received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by Annise Parker, who is the city's first openly lesbian mayor, nor will he comply with the city's demands.

"My answer to that is: Bring it on," he said.

Houston's city attorney issued the subpoenas in a response to a lawsuit filed related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (H.E.R.O.), the city's new non-discrimination ordinance, also known as the "Bathroom Bill."

The new law, which has yet to take effect, would (among other things) allow men who identify as women to use the restrooms of their choice—and vice versa. Opponents launched a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot. 

However, the city threw out the petitions claiming there were not enough legitimate signatures. Opponents then filed a lawsuit, which led the city to issue the subpoenas. 

Ironically, none of the five subpoenaed pastors are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Welch told me pastors across the Lone Star State are mobilizing and in the very near future they plan to hold a "Don't Mess with Texas Pulpit Sunday" event.

"We are dealing with bullies used to getting away with abuse of power," Welch said. "We called their bluff on this."

But City Attorney David Feldman told me that doesn't matter. He said in an interview Tuesday that the five pastors were actively involved in leading the fight against the Bathroom Bill and launching the petition drive.

"They are not party plaintiffs but they certainly appeared before council repeatedly regarding the ordinance and the petition," Feldman told me.

The city attorney defended the decision to issue the subpoenas.

"This petition was organized at the churches," he said. "That's where the organizing drive took place. That's where rallies were held. That's where signing parties were held."

Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission told me the city needs to mind its own business.

"The government has absolutely no reason to bully congregations who are speaking out about what they believe," he said. "It's none of the government's business."

Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm specializing in religious cases, is representing the pastors. They accused City Hall of going on a fishing expedition. 

"City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "This is designed to intimidate pastors.

Attorney Feldman denied that was the case.

"I'm just doing my job," he said. "I don't have any issues with these pastors. What I'm doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us."

Moore said he could not believe the city had taken such drastic steps.

"It didn't sound like something that would happen in America," he told me. "It is shocking in its audacity and it is buffoonish in its strategy. I can't imagine who in City Hall thought this was a good idea."

And that brings us back to Attorney Feldman—who dutifully took full responsibility and said the mayor had absolutely nothing to do with the subpoenas. He said she was never informed.

So at what point was Mayor Parker informed that her administration had declared war on the fine Christian pastors of the nation's fourth largest city?

"When you guys broke the story," he said.

I'm not sure what's harder to believe—that the mayor wasn't involved or that she reads my column.

Moore called the Houston incident a case of "legal bullying" and addressed it in a recent blog posting:

"The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever."

Ultimately, this is not about gays or lesbians or a Bathroom Bill. This is about the U.S. Constitution. This is about religious liberty.

This is about a group of pastors refusing to comply with the demands of the government. And they do so at the risk of being held in contempt of court.

Heaven forbid that happens. But if it does, I for one will gladly fly to Houston with a toothbrush in hand and join these brave men of God—behind bars.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

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