My Number One Headache In The Church…

Emotionalism. There, I said it. So many people in the church are hyper-emotional, like all the time. From what they desire in worship to what they desire for their kids, emotionalism dominates heads and hearts. You hear it from semi-innocent statements like, “I just wasn’t being fed.”, said by classic church hoppers and shoppers everywhere to semi-innocent questions like, “Did you have fun today?”, asked by well-meaning parents everywhere after they pick up their kids from some event or program at church. Yes, emotionalism in the church is one of my biggest headaches.

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-emotion. I am not anti-fun. I am not the anti-Christ. I just have a very legitimate concern that people in the church – people who genuinely love Jesus – have an overt fascination with feeling something. It seems to me that many people in the church are looking for some sort of mountain-top experience that will get them high on life and ministry. There seems to be a desperate desire to feel something exciting and amazing…no matter the cost.

I remember growing up as a preacher’s kid when Rick Warren made his debut splash with his classic work, “The Purpose Driven Life” (and its’ counterpart, “The Purpose Driven Church”). I remember my Dad clearly (and with some crustiness in his demeanor) say, “This isn’t the church. This won’t last long before the next hype arrives.” What was my Dad talking about? He was talking about the church’s desire to reach the lost, by any means possible, stopping just short of outright, outrageous sin to reach them. He was talking about the church’s desire to reach the lost by acting lost. He was talking about the church’s strategy of figuring out what culture wants and meeting those felt needs with gusto, giveaways, and gimmicks…all topped with a little bit of Jesus to make everything kosher. He was talking about the church and culture colliding into one hot mess express – emotionalism…The belief that if you don’t feel it, it isn’t real.

I meet people nearly every day who are in a desperate search to feel something. Some end their search in the forbidden arms of another. Others end their search by shooting up some forbidden substance. Less drastic measures come in the form of simply trying to generate a laugh or a tear as they sit in a worship service or small group gathering. People want to feel. People, in our culture, need to feel…At least they think they need to feel.

Now, certainly, the head and the heart are connected. Biblical truth should result in the heart responding, and that includes some degree of emotion involved. But, make no mistake about it, the order is important. Head, then heart. Many in our culture (and in the church) have inverted the order at their own peril…Heart, then head. They want to feel something before they think something. This is dangerous…

We see this clearly and humorously in the life of a toddler. They feel something in their hearts and immediately act out what they (honestly) feel so deeply. They’ll throw themselves onto the floor. They’ll cry many, many (real) tears of sorrow. They’ll scream. They’ll demand change. And all because Mom and Dad gently, but boldly stated, “You can’t eat toilet paper.” The toddler is simply trying to “live their truth”, but Mom and Dad know their toddler’s version of reality will end in a stomachache…or worse.

It is dangerous to put heart over head. What you feel, desire, and nurture in your heart will (inevitably) lead to action. That’s why we need our heads FILLED with “the truth”, not “my truth” or “your truth”, but “the truth”. We need to know some things before we feel some things and then act out on those things. Does that make sense? So many in the church want to feel something so deeply that they’ll bypass the hard work of thinking to satisfy their insatiable appetite for emotion. It’s like cheating on a math exam. You might get a 100% because of your final answers, but your route towards the solution was fraught with deception and error.

Friends in the church, life and ministry is more than your feels. It’s more than fun. It’s more than friendly high-fives and fist-bumps. Life and ministry is war. The battle against the thick darkness, instigated by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, demands intel. Yeah, as a former intel analyst for the United States Army’s Special Operations’ Community, I can 100% guarantee you that intel drives operations. Without actionable intel, no bad guys get shot in the face…and no bad guys get arrested for interrogation. It’s intel, then ops. Just imagine a group of soldiers (even highly trained and decorated soldiers) simply going into downtown Baghdad for operations. Who is the target? What did they do? Where are they located? Why do they need to be captured or killed? How do you reach the target? Operations demand intel. Same is true in the Christian experience. It must be head, then heart. Know some things. Feel some things. Then act. You may or may not enjoy it. You may or may not have fun. But you’ll be engaging in true spiritual combat operations, and that, my friends, makes all the difference in the world. Stay bold. Stay in the fight. Stay head strong, then heart strong…Why? Because the darkness is thick out there, but so is Gospel hope.

 

Annual Election of Officers (2023)

Our Annual Election of Officers is fast approaching! All church members, in good standing, who are 14 years of age and older are kindly invited to nominate and then vote for individuals in the following categories: Deacon (3 Open Positions), Clerk, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, and Sunday School Superintendent. Below you will find the church’s timeline of events:

Sunday, October 23 – Nomination of Officers Commences – Deacons distribute nomination letter and ballots by mail the week prior.

Sunday, November 6 – Nomination of Officers Closes – Nominating and Election Committee meet on Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 PM to discuss results.

Monday, November 7 – Wednesday, November 16 – Nominee Contact Process Begins – Contact proposed nominees to see if they’re interested in serving. These individuals must reply by the close of business (5:00 PM) on Wednesday, November 16…

Sunday, November 20 – Official Posting of 2023 Officer Nominees – Posting of nominees will be done on the church bulletin board and via our blog. Two week notice of Special Member’s Meeting to elect officers will be given.

Sunday, December 4 – Annual Election of Officers – Election will be held by secret ballot.

All elected officers will take office on January 1, 2023. Please be in prayer concerning who you would have serve and if God is leading you to serve.

The Day My Facebook Post Went Viral…

It was a simple enough post. I took a screenshot of our Commander-in-Chief as he gave his primetime address to the nation (Thursday, September 1st) from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His speech, entitled, “The Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation”, came equipped with all the optics of the former Soviet Union (or Nazi Germany) with an ominous dark backdrop that dripped with blood red lighting. His speech was passionate, clear, divisive, and (dare I say it?) terrifying.

Yes, in a primetime address to the nation, President Biden said, in part, “MAGA Republicans pose a clear and present danger [to American democracy]. It’s in our hands, yours and mine, to stop the assault on American democracy…MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”

Never in my lifetime have I heard a sitting U.S. President target fellow Americans with such heinous words. I felt what many of my fellow Americans felt: anger. So, knowing that the pen is mightier than the sword, I took that screenshot of our Commander-in-Chief and wrote the following Facebook post:

My name is David Cotner. I’m a child of God, a husband to Heather, a father to five, a pastor on the prairie, an Iraq War Veteran, and (now, apparently) a threat to democracy and the very soul of our country…

The darkness grows. It billows from the top as the sewage of fear erupts below. Yes, the darkness is thick out there, but so is Gospel hope…

#WeNeedADeliverer #WeNeedARedeemer #HisNameIsJesus

That’s it…I felt that my post was simple, fairly unemotional, and filled with Gospel hope. I looked it over, smiled, and said under my breath, “Here. We. Go.”, fully expecting about 15 likes and 2 comments (which is pretty average for my Facebook posts, especially the ones with a political flair about them)…That post went live on Friday, September 2nd, and initially gained about 15 likes and 2 comments (par for the course)…Then, slowly, it began to be shared…2 shares…4 shares…6 shares…All pretty standard stuff. I thought nothing of it. September 2nd eventually bleeds into September 7th and I notice my phone is blowing up…Multiple friend requests and dozens of new follows on my page…”What in the world?”, I thought to myself. But I was busy with ministry responsibilities and kept going about my day. Later that same day (September 7th) I realize that my September 2nd post is getting more and more reactions and comments…50 likes…60 likes…70 likes…And the comments kept at the same pace…50 comments…60 comments…70 comments. But what really floored me was the number of shares my post was generating…400 shares…500 shares…600 shares…At present, my post has been shared 2,000 times, and continues to gain traction…

According to online sources, a Facebook post is considered “viral” when it reaches at least 1,500 shares. Now, to be clear, I had no intention of this post becoming viral. I’m just a no-name preacher man out in the middle of the prairie trying to spread a little good by telling people about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. I merely made my post to infuse Gospel hope into the darkness and fear of our current political climate. But (man alive!) what a rush of adrenaline to see this post go viral…

Goodness, this blog post is already getting too long. I’m already at 573 words in this blog post. Online experts say that people’s attention spans usually dwindle rapidly at 500 words. So, if you’re still reading this, congratulations. I have no prize for you, but congratulations. You’re 73 words above average. And make no mistake about it, “readers are leaders”…So keep reading!

You know, obviously, I’m amazed at the number of shares this post generated. It clearly struck a nerve with people and ignited something deep within them. But why? It’s simple really: Words. Are. Powerful. They can be used for evil or for good. We teach children at a young age, and rightfully so, that they should choose their words carefully…The Bible admonishes us along these same lines: King Solomon states in Proverbs 18:21a, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” King Solomon continues in Proverbs 25:11 with this poetic truth, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Then, in the New Testament, Pastor James, writing to his congregation, warns: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:5b-11). Yes, words are powerful. So, choose them wisely.

I’ll end with this…I love the darker characters in novels and movies: Drosselmeyer in the Nutcracker, V in the movie “V for Vendetta”, and Willy Wonka and his band of merry Oompa Loompas. I love all of these fictional characters, but I’m especially drawn to Willy Wonka. “So much time and so little to do! Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” 🙂 Why the draw towards Willy Wonka? His charisma? His leadership style of the mysterious chocolate factory? His dark sense of humor? Yes. Yes. And yes. But more than all that…I love Willy Wonka’s use of words. He does it so well, embracing the reality of darkness, but with an eye towards hope. Remember the final scene of that 60’s classic? “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” This remark given as Charlie Bucket cautiously, but bravely does the right thing in returning the Everlasting Gobstopper to Willy Wonka. Yes, I love people (fictional or not) that embrace the reality of darkness, but with an eye towards hope. And that’s why I made this viral post to begin with…To remind people that the darkness is truly (devilishly, hellishly) thick out there, but so is Gospel hope.

And what is the Gospel? Listen closely…”Oompa loompa doompety doo. I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you. Oompa loompa doompety dee. If you are wise you’ll listen to me…”

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (The Gospel of John. Chapter 3. Verse 16.)

Yes, the darkness is mighty thick out there, but so is Gospel hope. Do you have such hope?


The Big 5…

I recently had lunch with two traveling representatives from Faith Baptist Bible College. In addition to representing the college, both of these young men are actively studying for the ministry. Indeed, they were young, eager, and had many questions about life and ministry. They asked many good questions, but one question in particular was especially great…One of them asked, “What are your go-to passages in a counseling situation? When things fall apart in someone’s life where do you take them in the Scriptures?” Here was my response:

1. Psalm 13 – For those being pulled by the strong rip currents of suffering, I take them to Psalm 13. Yes, for all those desperate for answers and relief Psalm 13 is a ray of hope and light.

2. Psalm 23 – Arguably the most famous chapter in the entire book of Psalms, Psalm 23 is literally appropriate for any season of life. With God’s presence promised even in “the valley of the shadow of death” and “His goodness and mercy” promising to chase us down “all the days of my life”, Psalm 23 is strong enough to breathe new life into dying situations and get fearful, anxious people over the hope line.

3. Psalm 46 – This is definitely one of my favorite back pocket Scripture texts for those entering Depression’s dark Mansion of Horrors. This psalm provides powerful reminders that since “God is our refuge and strength”, we only need to “be still, and know that I am God.”

4. Psalm 88 – Ah, yes! For anyone who is feeling alone, abandoned, or betrayed, Psalm 88 is dynamite. It literally ends with the words, “Darkness is my closest friend.” Fade to black…

5. Psalm 121 – Everyone feels the weight of this fallen world from time to time, and for those especially burdened by the nastiness of it all, Psalm 121 is a dear friend. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

So, there you have it…The Big 5…My go-to list when life gets tricky. And remember, friends, the darkness is mighty thick out there, but so is Gospel hope…

“Foggy First Day: Starting a New Semester” by Andy Stearns

Today was quite foggy. Iowa isn’t known for fog like some more pacific and northwestern locations. We might have fog once or twice. But today it was really foggy. Looking across the campus was a challenge. One new student even got turned around in the fog and new surroundings, and was slightly late to class. Nevertheless, it looked like a bigger obstacle than it really was. Sure it was hard to see. But following well-marked paths on campus was the sure way to find your class. And by the end of the first hour, most of the fog had lifted.

As I reflect on the fog this morning, I can’t help but think about it as a metaphor for a new school year. For the incoming freshman class, most of this semester is unknown. Not having the experiences of the upperclassmen means that everything is new and different. But even for upperclassman, a new year of classes is still just that, new. Fog captures the experience of the unknown-but-not-totally-unknown of our lives. Seeing a few feet ahead, but not seeing the final destination, can be a bit fearful. The new school year is filled with these kinds of unknowns. What kind of friends will I make? How difficult will my classes be? What will the team be like? How will I find a job? A church? And of course the major question on every college student’s mind, what will I do when I grow up?

Thankfully, just as there are people on a college campus who know where all the buildings are because they have worked there for years, so the Lord knows the future of our lives. He’s perfectly knowledgable and aware of all that has not yet been, but will be. He knows what will happen in your today and your tomorrow. Nothing takes Him by surprise, even though we are surprised all the time. And just like there are well-marked paths on college campuses that direct you to your next class, so the Word of God always directs us to what God wants for our life.

Whether you’re beginning a new semester, or just walking into something unknown in life, remember that God already knows. He’s been aware of that unknown since eternity past. He loves His children. And we can always trust in Him. His Word is the sure and certain path that we are wise to follow if we want to live a life that pleases Him. Even when that life is filled with unknowns.

Have a great semester. Study and learn so that you can grow in the Lord and serve Him all your days.

Proverbs 3:5-6,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding
.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths
.

Proverbs 20:24,
24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord,
How then can man understand his way?

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24,
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

It’s Been One Month Since My Parents Moved To Iowa…

One month ago, my parents moved from sunny Florida to beautiful (and better) Iowa. Life circumstances, in the form of an unexpected job loss, initiated their move. Personally, I’m loving the fact that I’m only 108 miles from my parents, instead of 953 miles. How wonderful it will be to grow my relationship with my parents as they are much, much closer.

You know, when I first got word that my Dad had lost his job, I took it as bad news. But was it really? In fact, not to get too deep or philosophical, but what makes loss “bad”? At first blush, losing a job, or a house, or a relationship, etc. is viewed as a negative or bad thing. But what makes it bad? Is it really? I don’t think we can really label something “bad” till the story unfolds a bit further. Certainly, a job loss or relationship loss is painful, irritating, discouraging, etc., but is it a bad thing? Let the story unfold…

Perhaps that loss will lead to something new and better. Perhaps losing that job that barely got you by, opens up a new opportunity to do something that the Lord really wants you to do. Perhaps losing that relationship (perhaps a bit toxic in nature?) will lead to a strengthening of your inner person and open you up to a wonderful and healthy relationship down the road. Perhaps loss isn’t a bad thing…Painful? Yes. Irritating? Yes. Discouraging? Yes. But bad? Let the story unfold…

It’s still a bit early in my parent’s job loss story, but take note of my Father’s testimony below. He recently sent this testimony, in the form of a text message, to my brothers and I…

“So, today is one month since we closed on our house in Pensacola. All of the proceeds from our house sale are in savings. We have a great apartment that is cheaper than our house in Florida. We both have jobs making more than we did in Florida. We both really love being here in Iowa! The bottom line is that we are living where we have wanted to live for a long time. We are making more money than we have ever made in our lives. Our expenses are lower than before. And, we have thousands more in savings than we have ever had. Only God could make an outcome like this from a job loss. My encouragement to you is to always trust God, always follow His commands, and always remain obedient even when you don’t understand.”

What a powerful and encouraging testimony! And, I agree with my Dad…In the end (no matter the outcome of our different losses), God is worthy of our faith and trust, His commands are good and wise, and obeying Him yields peace and joy even in the fog of this fallen world. I love you, Dad. Thanks for allowing me to share a snippet of your current testimony. Praying for you…May God continue to bless you…And I’ll see you when I see you…Take care.

From the Desk of the Associate: Fight Club, a Story of the Flesh vs the Spirit

A few weeks ago I counseled our Sr High youth at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp as I do every year. This year however, was going to be special. This would be the first year that the brand new gym would be open for summer camp. I’ve been looking forward to this for years and now the time had come. As one of our members at church says, “Sr. High camp is the pinnacle of the summer camp experience and I happen to agree with this. One of the reasons I would give such a hearty amen to that statement is because I love basketball. Even at the ripe old age of 31, I still like to think that I give the younger guys a run for their money. Sr. High brings lots of good basketball players who get to test out their skills against other campers and counselors. Needless to say, its a good time.

Well, on Tuesday morning of Sr High camp I got to test out the new gym for the first time during pickup basketball. At 31 many guys I used to play with have hung it up already but I was still feeling great like I could do this for another 10 years. In fact my goal has always been to play at a decent level until my boys are old enough to play along with me. God has blessed me with a lot of health and for that I’ve been thankful. Though I’ve had several fairly minor ankle injuries, I’ve had healthy knees all through high school, college and post-college playing. I have always feared the knee injury but knew that it would likely come for me one day and knee injuries to heal like most ankle injuries. Well that day finally came on Tuesday morning of Sr. High camp. As I dribbled the ball up the court on a fast break, I veered to the side to avoid the defender who had stopped in front of me to slow me down. As I cut to my right, out of my peripheral vision I see another defender who was chasing me from behind. In that split second, he collided with me and his knee hit straight into the side of my knee as I was attempting my side step. This caused my knee to buckle in and I crumpled to the ground.

It’s really crazy how fast your mind moves in those instances because I felt the sharp and shooting pain immediately in my knee and my mind filled with fear and anger. Fear because I knew that the dreaded knee injury had finally caught up to me. Fear because I had no idea how bad it was. Fear because I had imagined a future where I could still run with my teenage sons instead of having to just watch them. Anger because I didn’t want to deal with all the pain and inconvenience that a knee injury would bring me. In that moment I hit the ground all these thoughts had already gone through my mind and I immediately slapped the floor and yelled “frick!” at the top of my lungs. I’m not defending my use of this euphonism, in fact I’d condemn it. (Largely because it sounds far to similar to another curse word.) This was just the outward sign of my flesh reacting. I think we can all understand this response. However, within half a second, in my mind I said “thank you Lord.” Just like the anger was an involuntary response, so this inner show of gratitude was involuntary. I asked myself why I was saying “thank you?” It was because God had given me 31 years of healthy knees and that is far more than what many others get, and second, because God is sovereign and He is good and He has promised to make even this work out for my good and His glory.

You see, the first response of fear and anger was my flesh and immediately the Spirit comes to correct and fight my flesh. What were the means the Spirit used? It was the truth of His Word that had been ingrained in me. The truth that all good gifts come from above and even the gift of good health, something that I don’t deserve had been given to me for so long and God was good. And the truth that even in the suffering I was going through He would be good. And the truth that however this injury would affect my future God would not only make it good, but that He had planned this in his perfect will to work out for my highest good and His glory. These are the truths that the Spirit flashed before my mind in just a few seconds. It was as if He simply said, “trust me.”

Does that mean that I was immediately over the pain and loss? No, I still had many moments of failure where I let my fleshly anger have the victory. However, throughout the week of limping around the camp, I was constantly reminded of the goodness of God despite my circumstances. Of course I realize that so many reading this have gone through such things and even things that are far worse. I do not tell this story as if this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I know that it is not. The truth is I’ve had a really good life. An easy life. But even in the little suffering and the big suffering, God is good. And our biggest suffering is not the pain and loss that we experience during this life. Our biggest suffering is that which is brought by the reaction our sinful hearts of flesh. We are far to often unable or unwilling to say like the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 that “I consider the sufferings of this present time are unworthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It is so hard for us to lift our eyes and set our mind on things above and not on things on this earth.

Though this is often true, it is the Spirit who uses the truth of His Word to cause us to embrace the promises of God. Promises that the pain we are experiencing doesn’t compare to the joy and pleasure we will experience with God. Promises that the joy and pleasures that we can experience on earth don’t provide the ultimate joy and satisfaction that will be experienced when the believer sees Him face to face. So please use my telling of my experience with the battle of flesh vs Spirit to cause you to prepare for your own battles by walking in the Spirit and filling yourself with truth and surrounding yourself with people who will point you to the Spirit.

Virtual Reality Worship…

The world around us is changing fast. This is most apparent in the world of technology. Even at age 35 (which I consider young), I find it difficult to keep up with all of the technological changes in our world. Enter my pastor-friend, Jason Poling, into this mix of our ever-changing world and technology…

Instead of being apathetic or scared of our fast-paced world and the technology changes around us, he has embraced these changes by entering the Metaverse. “The Meta, what?” you ask. The Metaverse is the world of virtual reality and my friend, Jason, is harnessing this strange new world to facilitate digital worship…

I was pretty skeptical myself when I first heard Jason promote this on his social media feed several years ago, but recently NBC’s The Today Show interviewed my pastor-friend to discuss his adventure into this new territory of relationship building and communication in the Metaverse. Check out this interesting and well-executed five-minute video below…

Disclaimer: I have not thoroughly thought through the implications of virtual reality worship, especially in terms of virtual reality communion and virtual reality baptism. I also have no current plans of entering the Metaverse. I simply find my pastor-friend’s ingenuity and his desire to reach more people with the Gospel to be inspiring…

“Eleven Signs You Are Becoming a Church Consumer Instead of a Committed Church Member” By Thom Rainer

I am a church member. I teach a small group in my church. I occasionally preach when my pastor is out. I give to the church faithfully. I have been involved in other ministries in the church over the years.

But I sometimes start acting like a church consumer instead of a committed church member. Instead of focusing on others as 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 clearly demonstrate, I start acting like the church is supposed to serve me. I want to get my needs met. I want things a certain way for my family and me. My unholy trinity is me, myself, and I.

Tracking My Own Attitude and Behavior

Recently, I’ve started tracking my own attitude by going through a series of signs that my commitment to my church is not what it should be. Here are eleven signs that I am becoming a church consumer instead of a committed church member.

You know you are becoming a church consumer when:

  1. Your worship attendance becomes optional.
  2. You replace in-person attendance with digital attendance (though I fully understand that some people are unable to attend in-person).
  3. Your attendance to a small group is declining, or you stop attending completely.
  4. Your attitude toward your church is more critical.
  5. Your giving declines or stops.
  6. You critique sermons instead of listening prayerfully.
  7. You see church as a place to meet your needs instead of your meeting the needs of others.
  8. You move readily to another church when your needs are not met.
  9. You get frustrated at what other church members aren’t doing.
  10. You don’t pray for your church regularly.
  11. You don’t share the gospel.

Church Consumers Are Not Biblical

The local church is the dominant topic in the Bible after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Indeed, the entirety of the New Testament, from Acts 2 to Revelation 3, is either about the local church or written in the context of the local church.

The local church is God’s plan A, and he didn’t leave us a plan B.

I am a church member.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to act and think like one.

Motivational Speakers & Cult Leaders: What’s The Recipe of Their Success?

I was recently listening to a world-famous motivational speaker. Indeed, listening to him was as entertaining as watching late night television. He mounted the platform with all the charisma and energy of a rock star. His speaking capabilities? Flawless. Eloquent. Tantalizing. As I sat there immersed in a sea of 10,000 people, I hung onto his every word. He was incredibly pleasing to listen to…

But as I listened to this man’s speech on the four universal desires of every human being, I began to think – to analyze. I thought to myself, “What makes this man so incredibly successful at motivational speaking? Why am I so intrigued by his words?” So, not as a jerk, but as a polite observer of culture, I began to take some personal notes…The results of my analysis somewhat shocked me…Indeed, to state it bluntly, these observations are what make for an incredible motivational speaker (in the world at large) and a great cult leader (in the church world)…I know, I know, that was an ouchy thing to say, but notice my observations below…

  1. He spoke as an authority unto himself. In his incredibly thought-through, four-point outline of the four universal desires of every human being (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth), he never once referenced a source, book, quote, or statistic. Not. One. Time. He simply, confidently, and enthusiastically stated each one of his main points, relying on no source material, except himself. To be sure, his own personal success and fame made him a functional authority to the 10,000 people in the stadium, but still, he referenced no source material. Yes, he spoke as an authority unto himself.
  2. He weaved “believe in yourself” throughout his speech. Now, this is not a new cultural message/mantra; I get that. But up until this speaker, I had never (not one time) heard someone in culture define exactly what “believe in yourself” means. This guy did; and it blew me away. He defined “believe in yourself” as encompassing two primary ingredients (i.e., worthiness + capability). He encouraged, with great gusto, 10,000 of us in the stadium to think and identify ourselves as both worthy (of everything we want and desire) and capable (of getting everything we want and desire). Wow…”Believe in yourself” = “Worthiness + Capability”. Do you know what he just defined/explained…WORSHIP! Biblically and theologically, we promote the worship of Jesus (who is God) because we attribute to Him (and Him only) ultimate worthiness and capability. So, when you hear that common phrase in wider culture – “Believe in yourself” – understand what some people are advocating for when they say that…”Worship yourself because you are worthy and capable of everything your heart desires.” Am I overreacting? Reading too much into this statement? Maybe. But just think about it…
  3. He unified cultural desires and religious thoughts. In other words, he would mix in religious (even biblical terms) throughout his talk. His speech was littered with words like “joy”, “relationships”, and “service”. He went on to make the statement that every religion promotes as “the highest form of enlightenment” the concept of “unity”. Possibly the only cringe moment for me in his entire speech. Why? Well, because Jesus actually promoted something far different than the concept of “unity” as “the highest form of enlightenment”. In fact, he promoted division…”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)…”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But this man’s thoughts resonate within wider culture…Our culture desperately wants “unity” to be “the highest form of enlightenment”…I wonder what the ramifications of this thought process for true Christians would be…Hmmm…
  4. He kept his speech simple and used alliteration. A fairly simple observation, but it plays a part in this man’s success as a motivational speaker. He had four simple points that were easily rememberable and he even used alliteration (i.e., doubt, division, and delay) to describe the greatest hindrances to the four universal desires of mankind (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth). Indeed, his overall presentation was engaging and easy to follow. Easy. Breezy. Beautiful. Now, unlike the three points above, I’m not saying that simplicity and alliteration are bad things, but coupled with the above three points, it makes for a tantalizing…but dangerous concoction.

So, there you have it. Just some personal observations on a popular motivational speaker that might give you some insight into the inner workings of our wider culture. Indeed, as much as I am a student of the Word, I try to be a student of culture, understanding that our ultimate enemy is not culture itself, but the Evil One behind culture…Be aware. Stay alert. Stay strong.