Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I challenge that on several grounds, but most simply on the grounds that how will we worship if we don’t evangelize? I will certainly agree that worship may be said to be the ultimate priority of the church, whether gathered or not. All of life is to be about worship. But worship must begin with the primary thing … that is the recruitment of worshippers—evangelism.
Consider your own church. At your current rate of evangelism, how long will you be able to maintain worship? Is there any actual recruitment of worshippers going on? The dangerous part in most churches of “our type” is that we are able to maintain worship for another twenty to thirty years at the current rate. The “old timers” won’t die off in substantial numbers until then, and we can trip over a couple of younger people along the way to help out. We are not faced with a “live or die” situation. We have learned we can survive on the meat of previous years of ministry, whether through those we inherited at our church, or those that come from other churches. They will give enough to pay the salaries and keep the lights on. And if we can see a few people a year saved and baptized, we move on with some sense of satisfaction.
Now, consider your own church in thirty years. Who will be worshipping? Who will be serving? Who will be the deacons? Where will they come from? Who will be on pastoral staff? Where will they come from? Who will be the teachers and small group leaders? Where will they come from?
If your answer to those questions is anything but “this local church’s evangelism,” I fear that we have completely missed the point of church on earth. But there is a big difference between how we answer the question and how we undertake to accomplish the task.
Consider again your church now. Where did the pastor come from? That church, or another? Count your deacons. How many were saved and baptized in that church? Count your teachers. How many were saved and baptized in that church? How many of your current leaders were people who didn’t transfer in, and didn’t grow up in the church?
In fact, just look at the people in the church. How many did not grow up in your church, or in another church. In other words, what is the evangelism quotient in your church? What percentage of your Sunday morning service only knows “church” through their experience in your church? (As a side note, the great thing about these kind of people is that they don’t compare you to “Brother So and So.” All they know is what you have taught them and modeled for them.)
If you had to start completely from scratch in a new city, with your current philosophy of ministry and evangelistic strategy, how long would it take you to build a fully-functioning church?
I fear that we have accepted far too little in this area of evangelism and cannot help but wonder if our worship does not ring a little hollow. We proclaim that Jesus is the great and glorious God, the Savior of the world, the hope for mankind. We proclaim it loud and clear … to a group of people who are already convinced. Certainly they need to hear it again and again. But is that enough? I say no. We have not figured out how to grab the ear of those who need to hear it on the front side of belief.
I fear too many churches fill their churches with things they like, things that satisfy the “tried and true” members. They believe it is what God likes so they perpetuate it. They are willing to live comfortably with the group that they have and blame the lack of growth on “doing it God’s way—it won’t appeal to unbelievers.” I am not suggesting that they are unconcerned for the unbeliever. I am merely observing a lack of desperation for evangelism. They have no need to be desperate.
I am not suggesting an “evangelism only” church. Too many churches have gone down that route, and have recruited people to programs, humorous messages, great music, small groups, and the like (none of which are inherently wrong). On the other hands, some churches have gone down the “worship only” route or the “worship primarily” route, and have recruited virtually no one. They have created a little club where “anyone is welcome” but it only makes sense if you understand the lingo, the traditions, the patterns, etc. Neither have not recruited people to God-honoring, cross-bearing, self-denying, dead-man-walking, kind of living.
What’s my challenge of this somewhat disjointed stream of consciousness? We need to be people who “figure it out.” We must figure out how to quit living on the spoils of past victories, on the backs of past generations. We must figure out how to communicate the timeless gospel to a new generation who, for the first time in world history, does not share our presuppositions. We must quit trying to perpetuate mid-20th century traditions and figure out how to reach the 21st century in its own language and style.
We need to figure out an evangelistic strategy that works … that understands its hearers and their worldviews, that understands their objections and can meet them with the truth of Jesus in Scripture. I am not suggesting that the logic and persuasion can bring regeneration. Only God can do that. But he will not do it apart from his word clearly communicated in ways that the hearer can understand.
I am not driven by pragmatism. I want to be driven by the biblical command (make disciples) that springs from divine authority (all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth). It was modeled in Acts. Yet rarely seen today, it seems.
We have to figure it out.
Monday, February 27, 2006
THE head of the World Council of Churches has expressed concern about the spread of megachurches around the world, such as Hillsong in Sydney, saying they could lead to a Christianity that is "two miles long and one inch deep".How bad does something have to be for the World Council of Churches to express concern about it? Over the years, the WCC has not been on the cutting edge of spiritual discernment in matters relating to the purity of the gospel.
Something to think about:
- Churches under three years of age win an average of ten people to Christ per year for every one hundred church members.
- Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of five people to Christ per year for every one hundred church members.
- Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of three people to Christ per year for every one hundred church members. (cited in Stetzer, Planting New Churches in a Post Modern Age, p. 6).
Perhaps new churches are "new" and therefore, something unchurched people are willing to try out rather than go to an old church where they think they won't fit in. Such people are hearing the gospel at a church, not because it is a different gospel, but because it is a different voice. Going into my eighth year pastoring a church that has just passed its 102nd anniversary, I have realized that many people in our community already know about us. So they don't come.
Perhaps new churches are freshly committed to their mission, whereas old churches have lost that vision in the hullaballoo of doing church.
Perhaps old churches have succumbed to the work of managing Christians, trying to keep people happy rather than keeping them focused on the fact that their happiness is not the goal of the church.
Perhaps old churches have established power structures that are threatened by growth, and the people are unwilling to endanger their power by bringing new people into the mix.
Any thoughts from you?
Saturday, February 25, 2006
It is worth reading and studying ...
Both of these blogs are worth adding to your blogreader. They are limited participation (so they don't result in pooled ignorance from worthless meanderings) and they are participated in by men who have done their time.
Friday, February 24, 2006
She is now four years old, and her mother is suing. How do you explain that to your daughter?
"Mommy, why am I here?"I know ... I know ... Over the top. But this infuriates me.
"Because I tried to kill you and your twin and it didn't work right. It only killed your twin. But at least I got a lot of money for it."
"Oh, okay. Can I have a ice-cream cone?"
The mother says, "I have got a child now that I wasn't planning to have and I believe the hospital should take some responsibility for that," she said." Yes, of course. God forbid that you should take responsibility for it. After all, it was the hospital that forced you to lay back and ... well ... I'll stop there.
Where were her parents encouraging her to remain pure for marriage? Where was the local church, reaching out with the life-changing gospel? Where were her parents, encouraging her to accept responsibility for the lives that she helped bring into existence? Why didn't she give the baby up for adoption, to parents who wanted a child?
She said, "It has totally changed my life and my parents' lives." Well, no kidding, Einstein.
This angers me. And it hurts. It angers me because people throw babies away, when there are couples beyond number who would love to have a baby, who cannot conceive, or who have lost children in miscarriage. It hurts because it hits close to home. A little boy never made it into our home because of a miscarriage. Dark days that maybe you know about. Days when you are not sure what to say to the spouse you love. Days when all the answers sound pat and trite. Days that were followed by sixteen months of hope and then disappointment. All the while millions of unwanted children were sacrificed on the altar of convenience.
There were times when we were tempted to question God: "Why do you give babies to people who don't want them, and withhold them from those who do? Why do you give babies to people who will raise them in squalor, poverty, or even riches without God, and withhold them from those who want to raise up a godly offspring?" The answer we had to continually remind ourselves of is that God is God. He gets to do what he wants. And for reasons of his own, he decided that our little boy was better off in heaven with him, than on earth. But joy comes in the morning, the psalmist says. And hopefully, in about 26 mornings (give or take), a little boy will enter this world to grow up in our home, with parents who love him and love God.
What goes through a woman's mind after an abortion? I know almost daily, I wonder what our little boy would have been like. In my mind, I can see him toddling through the house, playing with toys. I can see him smearing food all over his face, trying to get the spoon in the right hole. I imagine holding him in my lap to read to him, taking down to the river to watch the ships. I imagine tucking him into bed and praying with him at night. And it makes me miss him. And it makes me love God more and trust him more because I know God did what was pleasing to him. And we experienced his grace in a way that I could never have imagined.
But in my anger is even more sadness, sadness beyond belief. I see it often ... a young teenage girl, carrying a baby around on her hip, or pushing him in a stroller down the street. I get phone calls asking for help with food and rent, with heat. And my heart breaks.
It breaks because it happened to begin with. A life that is supposed to be growing up and learning about life has had all its innocence and youth robbed.
My heart breaks because I want to help.
Life as a teen mom is bad, but it doesn't have to be the end.
The question is, Is fundamentalism prepared to deal in any meaningful way with this situation? I wonder that. How should we handle it? This tragedy isn't limited to the unchurched young women. It happens in the church, as well. Have we so removed ourselves from "doing good to all men" that we unprepared to help these in need?
Our God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He can restore the broken, be a father to the fatherless, and comfort even those who are caught in the web of their own sin. Condemnation is not what these girls need. They need help, compassion, and straight talk from someone who has taken the time to get to know them, to invest in them, and to love them in their current state. Someone to cry with them, to change diapers with them, to laugh with them, to enjoy motherhood with them, to have coffee with them and talk about their now shared experiences.
I fear too often we start with the straight talk and we fail to show compassion and give help. We fail to invest in older women teaching younger women (yes, even those younger women).
I am not talking about soft-pedaling the sin of sexual immorality. But beating a pregnant mom over the head with it won't change the past. It may change her future, and drive her away from the only people in the world who can truly help ... the Church.
When someone is hurting, even in their own sin, don't pull punches, but start with compassion. The question must be, "What next? Where do we go from here?" How do we get your on your feet? How do we help you raise your child? How can we help you know God?
Fundamentalism must be about the total gospel to the total person ... even those who make bad choices in life.
Were God’s primary purpose for believers the purest worship of his name, why would he not simply take us to heaven? There won’t be any worship wars there. No one will debate the legitimacy of the style of music used in heaven. No one will be feeding their flesh, no matter what music is used. We will worship free from the distraction of sin and the pressures of life. We won’t notice the lady’s hairdo in front of us, the cologne of the dude beside us, or the screaming child that should be taken out. It will finally be truly all about God.
Were God’s primary purpose for believers pure fellowship, why would he not take us to heaven? There won’t be anyone who lets his accountability partner down. There won’t be any who fails to give biblical and righteousness encouragement. There won’t be any there who fail to direct our thoughts and attentions to God. Our conversation will not slip into the mundane. We will not be tempted to build on the foundation of self-esteem. The “day approaching” in light of which we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds will have already come. We will not fear gossip, nor the condemnatory response when we admit our failures.
Were God’s primary purpose learning, why would he not take us to heaven? Surely, at the feet of the master Teacher, with minds unfettered by sin, life, and pressure, we could learn much better. All talk of theological systems will be put to rest. We will no longer debate how God’s sovereignty works in salvation, and whether or not Christ will return before the Tribulation or after it.
Why does God leave us here? To use Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 2, it seems that he has left us here for the sake of his elect, so that they might obtain salvation and with it eternal glory. God, in his eternal and unchanging wisdom, has chosen to use the saved to preach the gospel to the unsaved so that they might respond in saving faith. That is the only thing that we can do better on earth than we can do in heaven.
I thought I was alone in this. Then today, I came across this statement from John MacArthur in his commentary on 1 Timothy.
If the primary aim of the church were fellowship, knowledge of the Word, or holiness of the saints, all those goals could be accomplished perfectly by taking us to heaven. The central function of the church on earth is to reach the lost.That resonates with me, not because I am good at reaching the lost. It resonates with me because I am bad at it. The one thing that the church is supposed to do that cannot be done in heaven is reach the unbeliever and turn them into a follower of Christ. And the one thing we seem to do the very worst is reach the unbeliever.
It seems the church is so easily sidetracked. We discuss church polity, theological systems, styles of worship, whether or not we should be culturally relevant, whether we should have families together or families separate, whether or not we should go to Christian schools and colleges or not, whether or not we should drink wine, and the like. And all of these things are good, important, and necessary things. But it seems that somewhere we have lost sight of the only thing that we can do better on earth than in heaven.
Does your church have an evangelistic strategy? I mean something besides “Let’s go get ‘em”? Has your church actually thought about what the church can do to reach unbelievers? Pastors, just because you mention it from the pulpit and teach a few times about “How to Share the Gospel with Your Unsaved Friends in Five Easy Steps” does not mean that you have an evangelistic strategy. (There are no five easy steps, and talking about it will not get it done.)
I think churches need to develop a conscious strategy for evangelism. Notice, I did not say "church members" need to develop a conscious strategy. I think churches need the strategy, something besides half-way through the message seeing someone you don't know and wedging the Romans Road in between your last point and "Just As I Am." There are a variety of opportunities and strategies we could use.
Might the reason for our lack of evangelism in our churches be this very problem? We have devoted all our time to things that can be better done in heaven while devoting precious little time to the only thing that can be better done on earth. Pastors spend 30 hours or more a week preparing messages in hopes of wowing the mature Christians with some new theological truth, a catch outline, and a cool illustration. We spend far less time preparing to speak to the lost, who don't agree with us. And thus, when we stumble on the opportunity to speak to the lost, we trip over ourselves because they don't understand and buy our pat church phrases that elicit hearty amens from the faithful. They just don't get it, and so we quote a few verses, promise to pray for them, and invite them to church where they will hear a message that took thirty hours to prepare for an entirely different group of people. I am not suggesting we give up on the things better done in heaven. But perhaps some thought is in order about why we are so ineffective in communicating the gospel to those for whom we are here.
More on this later so I don't wear out my welcome in your browser.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
I was having breakfast and reading (Addictions: Banquet in a Grave by Ed Welch for the second time) this morning in a local diner (as I make it a practice to do). Over the several years I have done this, I have gotten to know a few people by sight and name and people know me and who I am in the community. Because of their long standing acquaintance and chatty personality, they often talk amongst themselves, and I overhear their conversations. It is a great window into the minds of people, a window I love as a pastor trying to reach this community. I love to know how people think and what goes on in their minds.
This morning, the conversation turned from women, to politics, to church, with a few other things thrown in along the way. The conversation about women was mostly lighthearted, a few barbs about having money and not needing a woman, and the like. The conversation about politics was mostly about the evil Republicans, how Bush doesn’t love the country, how Tricky Dick was the worst president this country ever had and was responsible for the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It reminded me again that a pastor needs to stay out of political issues when they are not moral issues. If I am going to take a contrary stand and marginalize myself, I am going to take that stand about Jesus, not about George Bush, the Republicans, the Democrats, the UAE taking over port security, taxes, or any other political issue. Jesus must be the dividing line for us Christians. (Don’t misunderstand … Jesus has implications for politics, but those make sense only in a certain context of understanding who Jesus is. The church needs to be exceeding careful about making political pronouncements. After all, how many people are turned off to the gospel because of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? I do not want me, or this church, to be confused with them.)
Over the past few years, a few people have encouraged me to run for office in the city, as a council member, or a school board member. This past year, my wife was encouraged to run for the least political office in the city (City Clerk). I have always said no, because politics, especially here, is marginalizing. I do not want the gospel of Christ confused with my political or economic views. Perhaps others have a different view. That is fine. But to this point in my ministry, I have concluded that it is best for the life of the pastor to be about Jesus. If I take a public and dogmatic position on a non-biblical issue, I may damage the hearing of the gospel to all who disagree. Is it worth that? Not for me.
The conversation about church was most interesting to me, since I have a vested interest in the church. The people involved have not yet attended my church, and so I was quite certain they were not talking about my church. I pray that one day they will come. However, I was greatly concerned that the things they were talking about were true in every church, mine included. It was about gossip. One commented that he, with two others, picked up a woman to take her to church this past week. He said she walked in with someone else and walked out with someone else. But within several days, word had gotten around that he was involved with this woman. Another commented that the “gospel church” should be renamed the “gossip church.” Another commented about Easter Sunday being the time when everyone went to church to see what everyone else was wearing. It all hit close to home. I just listened. The waitress, who I know and who has visited the church a time or two, came up and put her arm on my shoulder and said something about me being the pastor and these folks talking about the church. They laughed and I laughed. It was all good-natured and I was not offended in the least.
Why? Because it’s too often true. Church is about appearance … what someone is wearing, who they are with, and the like. It’s about the appearance of perfection and the reality of hypocrisy. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be this way (to quote James about another topic).On the way out, I commented to the waitress that I wondered why people expected the church to be perfect. We aren’t. We are just broken people, trying to follow Jesus in a sin-cursed world. Not all churches are about that. Some simply don’t preach Jesus.
The reality is that there will be clothes horses in church, veritable mannequins to model their fashions. There will be loud-mouthed gossips (men too), who can’t wait to get home after church to burn up the phone lines about who is with whom. There will be hypocrites who show up in church, hung over from the weekend, having rolled out of bed with their girlfriend or boyfriend to make it to church. There will be the “holier than thous” who have been in church for umpteen year who look down their snout at people hoping that these “lesser people” will “figure out we don’t do it like that around here” (an almost exact quote I heard from someone).
Let’s repent of that. Let’s acknowledge to the world that we don’t have room for perfect people, and if that’s what you’re expecting, you best try elsewhere. We are all broken by sin, healed by Jesus alone, trying to follow God in this fallen world. God forbid that the world see us as anything else.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
The irony was that he concluded his series with the statement, Moreover, what right have you or anybody else to inflict your whims of religious experience and preference on other believers?
I did a double take. Did someone who has spent a number of articles ostensibly trying to inflict his whims of religious experience and preference on other believers just condemn such a tactic? It sure looks like he did. I am quite sure he would respond that he was not addressing his religious whims and preferences, but rather scriptural demands. Which leads to the question, Why not more Scripture to demonstrate these demands? I never saw a place where he was able to remove his point of view from the category of religious experience and preference and into the category of mandate.
This followed on the heels of an unrelated conversation I was having with someone who made a universal categorical statement about a topic. I pointed out that his universal categorical statement was an overstatement. He responded that it was what he believed, and as such was not an overstatement of his belief. I pointed out that I did not address whether or not he overstated his belief. I addressed the fact that he overstated the facts. (Interestingly enough, the person involved in the "overstatement" discussion admitted his overstatement by acknowledging that the evidence against him were mistakes and exceptions. If you make a categorical statement that "All A is B," then later admit that "Some A is not B, but those are mistakes and exceptions," you have proven yourself wrong since you have admitted that not all A is B; some of it is not B. The reason why "not all A is B" is irrelevant to the fact you have just stipulated.)
Don't misunderstand me. I am not arguing for Christian movies or dramas, or anything else for that matter. I am rather addressing the method through which one goes about establishing a position.
While we are all convinced in our own mind (at least to some degree), somehow we too often fail to recognize that "belief" and "fact" are quite often not the same. While your conscience may not permit certain things, and while you have every right to try to persuade others of the value of the position you hold, it seems to me that we need to be more careful with the facts. If your position is true, then the Scriptures rightly interpreted and applied will bear it out. Using such language as "religious whims" does nothing but prejudice the reader. You have just called him a name.
If the gospel demands anything of us in communication, it at the very least demands that we argue ethically, and truthfully, without prejudicial, hyperbolic language. I could say, "Everyone who disagrees with me is a stupid idiot. If they had the least bit of intelligence, they would see that I am right." (And I may even believe such a thing.) But such language would not enhance the strength of my argument; it would likely weaken it. Nor would it encourage the reader to interact with what I actually said about the topic. They would respond to what I said about them.
In communication, the word of God demands the highest level of honesty and ethics. If there is legitimate divergence from my position, I must deal with it honestly. I must not resort to less than ethical tactics.
So in our speech, let's be careful to accurately represent the true state of affairs about whatever topic we might address. Let's be careful to address those who disagree with kind and loving language such as the image of God in all men (even those who disagree) demands (cf. James 3:9-10).
(In case you want to appeal to Christ's dealings with Pharisees as evidence of your right to use strong language and call those who disagree with you names, I would simply say that when you get to be Christ, you can do that. Until then, our sinful nature is far too prone to ungodliness. There is fine line between sinful anger andrighteous anger; few of us ever come close to it.) The gospel would be better served by temperate communication.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Of course now that I live in Detroit, spring is a little farther away than it was growing up in South Carolina. It seems that Opening Day in Detroit usually has an about even chance of snow, which, ironically, is far greater than the Tigers chances of being close in September. New Tiger skipper Jim Leyland (who was old the last time the Tigers won a pennant) is looking to bring something new to the ballpark this year. Of course, who knows what it will be that he brings, and whether or not it will help.
The greatest thing about spring training? Everyone still has a shot. No one has yet been eliminated. The magic numbers are still almost seven months away.
Growing up in the south in the mid-80s must be like growing up in Detroit now. The Braves were perennial losers with no shot of getting better. (I can still recite batting orders from the Braves in the mid-80s, as well as a bunch of other useless information, but I can't seem to remember where I put my keys.) They had a bunch of guys who just could not get it done. Joe Torre, who won five rings with the Yankees, gave them the best shot, with a division championship in '82 and two second-place finishes that followed. Then came a stretch of six years with five managers where the Braves averaged finished 27 1/2 games out of first place. (That wasn't a one year low. That was the average. One year, it was 39 games out of first place.)
But each spring, we hoped for a miracle. We finally got in 1991, with the worst-to-first Braves who lost in the World Series. That miracle is now going for its fifteenth straight reccurrence. Which causes me to wonder when a miracle ceases to be a miracle? Perhaps the miracle of fourteen straight is greater than the miracle of of '91, the worst-to-first.
Which brings me to the Tigers. There's hope ... if only until April.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
[From time to time, I will write brief reviews of books I have recently read. This is my first attempt at writing a book review (other than a few I did in seminary for grades). If it is cumbersome, or unhelpful, forgive me. I will try to do better next time. I promise.]
This morning, on my (usually) weekly stop for breakfast at a nearby diner, I read Rick McKinley’s book Jesus in the Margins: Finding God in Places We Ignore. I picked it up from a book table at a recent conference for $5.00. I figured it was worth $5 for kindling if nothing else.
McKinley is the lead pastor at Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Oregon. I recently heard him speak, and so reading the book brought certain images to my mind of the author. Those who have not heard him or seen him will not have that experience. It helped me to understand the manner of writing. You can listen to him speak at his church website. McKinley is a part of the Acts 29 Network, a peer group for church planting. Now, on to the book …
The book itself is an interesting read. It is just under 200 pages, but I read it over breakfast and about ten cups of coffee. (If there is a long break in this article, it’s only because I had to run downstairs … again). It was a little less than an hour and a half of reading, which is pretty light reading and easy to follow. You can read an excerpt from it here.
The Table of Contents
- Postcards From the Journey
- Jesus the Illegitimate Child
- Jesus the Church Misfit
- Redemption: So What?
- Cosmic Questions
- Untamed Love
- Father of Mine
- Becoming the Child
- Dying in the Desert of Self
- What If My Chute Doesn’t Open?
- Postcards from Further Down the Road
Some Thoughts About the Contents
For the author, the “margins” are the places out of the mainstream of society, but ironically where most of us have found ourselves at one time or another, struggling to find identity, meaning, and purpose, while at the same time feeling threatened by our inner unknown self that would bring rejection if people really knew us. The “postcards” (beginning and end) are first person accounts of people from “the margins:” sexually abused, broken homes, successful but empty business man, religiously confused, etc. and much of his writing deals with these kinds of situations.Jesus is presented as the Redeemer who came into the margins of life, rather than into mainstream respectable society in order to redeem those in the margins.
Rather than appearing as the fabulous halftime performer on Super Bowl Sunday, Jesus comes into the world as an infant, the weakest of the weak, completely unnoticed by most of the outside world. What’s more, he shows up in the womb of an unwed teenage mom. This story has scandal written all over it (pp. 30-31).
McKinley asserts that the church has too often made Jesus into a cultural icon, “a blond and blue-eyed cultural icon who comes around with a smile at Christmas and Easter to bless our lives and make us feel better. Or like a statue on a distant pedestal, where he’s crowned with halos and surrounded by angels. That Jesus remains far removed from o0ur hearts because we can’t connect to a Savior who doesn’t understand our life or know the nitty-gritty margins where we live” (p. 39). Chapter 3 is devoted to “Jesus the Church Misfit,” the friend of sinners who “goes to [Matthew’s] party, breaking yet another religious rule, but he doesn’t care. He’s always interested in the Levis of the world who are ignorant enough to throw a kegger for God. That’s who Jesus has come to love” (p. 54).
A constant theme through this book is “[reimagining] what life could be if we lived it in him, with his life in us” (p. 61). He returns to this theme often.
McKinley is not soft on sin. He says, “It is part of us and we can’t shake it. It shows up in our actions, our thoughts, and our attitudes. At its core, sin is our desire to run our lives any way we want” (p. 65). He says, “Dismissing our sin as a small, insignificant part of life that is not functioning well will only result in our own destruction” (p. 66). He speaks often of the emptiness that comes from pursuing pleasure in our own cisterns, rather than at God’s fountains (pp. 71ff.). He says, “Our culture is full of cheap prostitutes that promise to relieve our emptiness” (p. 74). He reminds us that “Jesus invites us out of the margins to discover the meaning of life in relationship with him” (p. 80; he cites John 7:37-38).
Throughout the book, he is big on redemption and love in Christ. He says “Jesus doesn’t see the world as you and I see it; he understands that our although our pain is very real, it is not more real than his love. Nor is pain more powerful than his love” (p. 95). He is clear that Jesus died for our sins and that we are viewed as righteous because of what Christ did for us, and that we are saved by faith (pp. 59ff.) He reminds us that “the love of Jesus doesn’t come to make us fit into American culture [I would add or any other kind of culture of subculture]; it’s here to make us fit into heaven … Jesus isn’t really concerned with moving us into a new economic strata or a different social structure … Jesus isn’t so much concerned about removing you from the margins as he is about helping you understand that you don’t have to be named by the margins of this society. He says you’re named by God” (p. 38).
He raises obstacles that people in the margins have, such as feeling as if they are unlovable, being fatherless and not understanding what God is like as a father, being hurt by trusting someone who let you down, feeling like they have to conform to fit in and therefore not being authentic. He deals with these obstacles in a clear way that the reader can understand, even if they have not experienced the obstacle in their own life.
He concludes, “As Jesus to reimagine life daily and hangout in his presence, he is simply asking you to pay attention, to believe in and respond to what he is telling you. Simple, but astounding. The beauty of redemption from sin to relationship is ours to experience daily” (p. 176).
A Few Closing Observations
I enjoyed this book. No doubt, some won’t like his “common man” style. It may seem cheap and chessy to some. This is not a theological treatise. It is plain talk about life. There is a lot of transparency that comes through because Rick is not writing from the ivory tower with all the answers and no experience. He has been where he talks about, being saved as a twenty-something, from a background of partying. (He claims he was voted “most likely to die with a beer in his hand.”)
But he writes in a way that people who have been there (and even those who haven’t) will understand. The meaning of Christ’ love and redemption rings through clearly.
He talks about lot about meaning and purpose in life, but he does so in a way that ties it back to our relationship with Christ. Don’t read this book looking for a systematic theology of sin. Sin is there, as is the answer. But this book is about the relationship that we can have with Christ through his love and redemption. It is about leaving the past and self, and coming to Christ. This is a pretty naked observation of the life lived by more than we probably care to admit.
At first read, this book seems heavy on self, and how we feel about ourselves and the experiences we have had in life. No doubt, this will strike some as overly humanistic, and man-centered. And perhaps it could be read that way. Overall, I did not sense that. The author was committed to dealing with people where they are at, not where we might like them to be after years of spiritual growth. People do come from hurting backgrounds, marginalized by society, and in need of love and compassion along with the gospel. To give the gospel without love and compassion is as inadequate as giving love and compassion without the gospel. But remember sometimes spoonfuls are easier to digest than truckloads.
A main critique I might offer is that I wish Rick had spent more time demonstrating that the marginalized in life are there precisely because of the effects of sin, that sin destroys life. My theological background allows me to read that in, but I am not sure the inexperienced reader would find that as clear. People are hurting in life because of the curse of sin. Every single personal problem is rooted in the sin nature and the deadly and hurtful consequences of our sin, both in our own lives and the lives of others. I think Rick believes that; I just wish he had made it clearer.If you get a chance to read this book, I would urge you to take the time to read it. Reading it should give us more insight into the lives of the “not so clean” in society. Hopefully it will give us more passion to reach them, not for our particular sub-culture, but for the gospel of Christ.
Monday, February 13, 2006
His article begins with an overview of contemporary worship (plugging in) and historic worship (pulling out). This overview concludes with a few observations.
We forge worship best when we consult 1) the Bible, b) the cultural context of our community, and c) the historic tradition of our church. [Italics and underlining his throughout].Keller follows this overview with a short discussion of the seeker-sensitive worship movement with four points of critique from young pastors, most of whom are from some branch of the emerging or Emergent church movement. (Off topic note: I do think there is merit to a distinction betweeen the emerging church as a philosophy and the Emergent Church as a movement. I have become convinced that it is a valid distinction, contrary to my previously held view.)
This more complex approach is extremely important to follow. The Bible simply does not giev us enough details to shape an entire worship service. ... So to give any concrete form to our worship, we must "fill in the blanks" that the Bible leaves open. When we do so, we will have to draw on a) tradition, b) the needs, capacities and cultural sensibilities of our people, and c) our own personal preference. Though we cannot avoid drawing on our own preferences, this should never be the driving force (cf. Romans 15:1-3). Thus, if we fail to do the hard work of consulting both tradition and culture, we will—wittingly or unwittingly—just tailor music to please ourselves.
Keller then presents his solution of evangelistic worship. He says,
Churches would do best to make their "main course" an evangelistic worship service, supplemented by both a) numerous, variegated, creative, even daily (but not weekly) seeker-focused events, and b) intense meetings for Bible study and corporate prayer for revival and renewal.Keller's uses passages such as Isaiah 2:2-4; 56:6-8; Psalm 102:18; Psalm 105; and Psalm 47:1 as a theological basis for evangelistic worship. He say "believers are told to sing and praise God before the unbelieving nations."
He references 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and Acts 2 as New Testament examples of evangelistic worship. He says,
1) Non-believers are expected to be present in Christian worship.He says, "We are not simply to communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them."
2) Non-believers must find the praise of Christians to be comprehensible.
3) Non-believers can fall under conviction and be converted through comprehensible worship.
Keller concludes his article with "three practical tasks," numbered purposely out of order.
2. Getting unbelievers into worship.Overall, Keller's article has some thoughts that are well worth the time it takes to read and process this article. I have concluded over the past several years that evangelistic worship is on the right track, though I have not figured it all out by any means. Keller's article provided some additional ammunition, as well as some caution. (He probably didn't intend the caution.)
1. Making worship comprehensible to unbelievers.
a) Worship and preaching in the "vernacular."
b) Explain the service as you go along.
c) Directly address and welcome them.
d) Quality aesthetics.
e) Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice.
f) Present the sacraments so as to make the gospel clear.
g) Preach grace.
3) Leading to commitment
a) During the service.
b) After the service.
I have concluded that we fundamentalists are bad celebraters and bad meditators in our worship. We have the greatest news in all creation and we act like our neighbor's dog just died. We are kind of glad, but don't want to celebrate too much. We are half-hearted in our singing, going through the motions with little actual response. We entertain ourselves during the singing by seeing if we can sing four different parts on successive verses.
It's no wonder that no one wants to be a part of us. Perhaps if we were restored to celebrating a God of majesty and eternal relevance (yes I said that), people would begin to say, "God really does exist and he is right here."
As always, I invite comments (from both of my readers). I only ask that if you comment on Keller's article, that you take the time to read it so you can understand what he is saying, rather than what I am saying about it. In other words, critique his article , not my summation of his article. Later, I will post some direct observations.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Monday, February 06, 2006
There are two women listed: Jill Briscoe and Anne Graham-Lotz (Just curious ... is retaining the "Graham" an attempt to draw from her father's well of recognition? After all, he did say she might be the best preacher in the family).
There are some familiar names and then some I am not familiar with.
(For those wondering, I asked them not to consider me for the list.)
Saturday, February 04, 2006
For him, and for all those who agree with him, I would recommend that you read this article, or one of dozens like it from various news sources.
When was the last time you saw evangelicals carrying out these sorts of attacks? When was the last time the evangelicals stormed the news media outlets violently demanding fair treatment? Did evangelicals bomb NBC over the Book of Daniel? Have evangelicals used violence in response to Rolling Stone's for its blasphemous cover depicting rapper Kanye West as Jesus Christ? No, in fact, evangelicals have traditionally been very non-violent. These evangelicals that he is scared of poured millions of dollars and man hours into hurricane relief this past fall, and millions more into tsunami relief just over a year ago. These evangelicals are the ones operating drug rehabiliation centers and soup kitchens.
This visitor appears to be eager to make evangelicals look like the second coming of Attila the Hun who do things worse than fly planes into building, firebomb embassies, and suicide bomb bus stops. But in so doing, he either participated in the use of rhetorical devices that he scorned, or has no clue about relative dangers in the world. Either way, it seems that his comment would have been better left unsaid. Something about "Keeping your mouth shut and letting people think" comes to mind ... but I would hesitate to apply it to this visitor for this reason.
I rather think this visitor was using hyperbole (a rhetorical device similar the understatement that the visitor was repudiating). After all, if he was really more scared of evangelicals than Muslim extremists, why doesn't he leave this country where evangelicals make up a large contingent and go live in a country where Muslim extremists dominate. If he is right, wouldn't his family be safer there? You never know when the 6th grade boys Sunday School class might break out into a riot and burn down the neighborhood. Perhaps then his southern Christianity will look a little different to him. My bet is that he isn't more scared of evangelicals than Muslim extremists. He just thought it would strengthen his rhetoric. Of course, who knows. He never responded to my question about it.
And while I am here, having read many discussions in the past several weeks, it seems to me that it is time that we start pointing out the hate and disrespect that is directed towards Christians, even by those who claim to be part of us. The fact that Christians voice their concerns about moral issues does not automatically equal hate.
Let's not be afraid to point out the hypocrisy of those who use hateful words to point out what they consider hateful words. And while we are there, let's not be afraid to evaluate our own speech for hateful words. Neither let us shy away from saying the tough things that people need to hear but don't want to hear.
It is not loving to let little boys play in the street without confrontation and correction. Nor is it loving to let people continue down self-destructive paths without confrontation and correction. To quote commentator Patrick Buchanan, there is a war for the soul of America. It won't be won at the ballot box. It will be won in the human hearts by way of the pulpits of our land getting serious about God's truth for this age.
Think about it ...
[Stream of consciousness now over.]
See my friend Pat's blog for some interesting comments on this general topic.
With few exceptions, blogging is probably more about the blogger than his audience. After all, the most beautiful sound in the world is the sound of our own name, followed closely by the sound of our voice. Cyberspace gives us an audience of the unknown, a chance to impress the cyber-parish with our own wit, intellect, insight, and charm. (Or put more simply, blogging might be an exercise in pride, thinking we have something to say that the world cannot live without.) Our thoughts are "here today," and by day after tomorrow they will be so yesterday, past the pull date.
And so we would do well to take to heart these words of Mark Dever from Together For the Gospel. He reminds us,
One reason that I've been reluctant to enter the blogosphere is that I am concerned that blog-writing and reading only adds to a bad tendency that we today already have--a fascination with the newest, latest, and most recent. And the newest and latest also often means that which is of only immediate value, that which is passing. That is opposed to that which is enduring, and which has in fact endured and lasted. We write words here which crawl along electronically and leap out through your fingers and eyes to take precious minutes and hours that the Lord has entrusted to us. Could these small things we write really be that important?The irony is that I just put this in my blog. Go figure.
Friday, February 03, 2006
It was a wonderfully cordial email (especially compared to some of the other comments I have received). Thanks, writer, for your kindness. I have withheld his name here but have reproduced his email to me, and my response to him.
I noticed your comments on the McLaren article, and I simply followed the links. While I respect your position regarding the Scripture and homosexuality, the Bible is also clear about divorce and yet we give grace and love and acceptance to those who continue to live as divorced people. From a biblical perspective, it is fair to make this comparison. So, why do we then fail to take this kind of stance against our divorced friends and church members?
Before we get too hard on McLaren, we need to recognize that we are equally guilty of that which we put onto others such as Brian. Perhaps this is part of the reason for Jesus talking about the planks in our own eyes.
Thanks for your comments and question. From a biblical perspective I do not think it is fair to make the comparison for several reasons.1. Homosexuality is a behavior; Divorce is a state. Therefore, we are dealing with two completely different issues. I have made clear my position on divorce: Divorce is never the best option; it is always the result of sin. In any situation, even so called "legitimate" situations, it is the very last option.
2. Homosexual behavior is something that can be changed; a divorced state is something that cannot be changed. On the other hand, the behavior that led to the divorce can be changed and must be changed. I take the same stand about that as I do about homosexual behavior. I have tried to make that clear in my ministry. Homosexual behavior is something that can be immediately changed (just like the sin issues that lead to divorce). The call to all sinful behavior is immediate cessation. We are not to spend "one more night with the frogs" as Pharaoh wanted to do. We are to immediately change.
3. Remember that not all sins are equal, nor do all have the same consequences. God has given us specific answers on how to deal with divorce moving forward. We are to follow those instructions.
4. With anyone in any sin, we should always deal with them in grace and love. But we cannot give acceptance to things that God does not accept. I no more accept the sinful behavior that leads to divorce than I do homosexual behavior. The glory of the gospel is that there is grace for both, and far more. Remember Paul's words that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Where there is a thimbleful of sin, there is a truckload of grace.
The line between grace, love, and biblical confrontation of sin is often a fine line to walk gracefully, and in our sinful fallenness, we probably trip over that line more often than not. But my mind returns often to our master and teacher Christ who sat with prostitutes and loved them, and called them to change, not to continue in sin. That should be our approach to those in homosexual behavior, adulterous behavior, abusive behavior, substance abuse behavior, or any other kind of unbiblical behavior. We must not be afraid to get our hands dirty in the ministry. Let's love them, but let's not be so unloving as to let them continue.
If, as the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6, those who practice homosexual behavior (and others are listed as well) will not enter the kingdom of God, how can we be so unloving as to not tell them that? How can we stand by and let them continue in kingdom-rejecting behavior without warning them?
There are certainly some who are guilty of the same things that Brian has been guilty of, and we should be careful in making charges. There are many who have been unloving in their approach to dealing with the sin of homosexuality. It grieves my soul when I see that type of approach. It is unChristlike. It is sinful. But it is equally sinful to muddle up what God has made clear.
But Brian failed to be clear where Scripture has been clear. The fact that someone else (even me) might do the same thing is irrelevant. Jesus' words about the plank were not a call to not judge (as they are so often interpreted). It was a call to not be a hypocrite. BTW, as you probably know, Brian has a history of this. He routinely dodges very simple questions. That is not to speak with a clear sound. It is to sound a confusing trumpet. I can appreciate Brian's concern for how people respond to our responses, for the reasons that lie behind their questions.
But along with Brian's concern to be pastoral, we must add the concern to be biblical. And that is unfortunately where Brian dropped the ball. I hope he will pick it up, learn from this experience, and begin to be more open with the things that God is open about.
Thanks again for your question. I hope this brings some clarity to my position.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
My morning post brought more discussion than I expected. But now word has arrived that NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has compared the GOP to Nazis. I am no Bush slappy, but I think this is a bit over the top. (That was rhetorical understatement. I actually think this is way over the top.) In an adminstration with more minorities than any administration in history, Bond calls Secretaries of State Powell and Rice "tokens." Am I concerned about it? No, of course not. But I do have a question.
Will the NAACP be held accountable for these remarks? Will the political left face the firestorm for their support of this kind of racism and race baiting? Will Julian Bond be held accountable for the despicable things he has said?
The NAACP in recent years was already the subject of IRS investigations for political activity by a non-profit organization. I am not sure what the investigation was for. The worst kept political secret in the last forty years is that the NAACP is a not politically neutral. They are Democratic supporters to their very core. They are political activists.
I think the IRS should have saved the investigation money and given me a tax refund so I could have a nice dinner. At least there would have been some suspense at the outcome. You never know what I might order. You always know that the NAACP is a political organization with a political goal that is Democratic and liberal. (Is that redundant??)
Personally, I can't see what the NAACP is doing to help conquer the evils of racism. Perhaps in past decades they served a good purpose, but I can't help but wonder if the biggest part of the racial problem today is that we talk about it. Everything gets painted as a racial issue. Perhaps if we started talking about character, and conversion to Jesus Christ, and calling people to step up and live like men and live like women, all of whom are made in the image of God, the problems would be lessened.
Don't get me wrong. There are racists out there, and they are completely and unquestionably wrong. They are not living the mission of Jesus Christ in this world. It grieves my soul that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11:00am. It is shameful that some have the mentality of "their churches" and "our churches." I was once told by someone that the black people of our community should go to "their churches over there." I was completely and utterly appalled, embarrassed, and angry. I hate that fundamental churches have largely abandoned the urban areas of America. I think we need to start taking them back.
But let's quit talking about race. Let's talk about the human race that Jesus bled and died for, to redeem from every lawless deed and to purify for himself a people for his own possession (Titus 2:14). Let's love the way that Christ loved. Let's talk about grace that forgives all sins. And when someone like Julian Bond stands up and says these kind of things, whether he's white or black, let's remind him that he is part of the problem, not the solution.
Race problems won't be solved by the courts, or the legislature. Nor by the bully pulpit of the presidency. They will be solved by the pulpits of our churches when the return to preaching the grace of God in Christ in which "there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all" (Colossians 3:11).
The New York Times writes today on the controversy surrounding Every Tribe Entertainment's End of the Spear movie. While most news about this is old, they did include an interesting piece of information about the controversy.
I had to read this two or three times to fully process it. It was simply too unbelievable to be true. Of course, in the NYT, it might well not be true. But that's another post.
One Web log, nossobrii.blogspot .com, written by Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, stated in a Jan. 13 entry: "Granted, we must not overreact. And it would probably be an overreaction to firebomb these men's houses. But what they have done is no mistake. It is a calculated strategy."
Greg Clifford, chief operating officer of Every Tribe, said the company, based in Oklahoma, had alerted the F.B.I. there about the Web log. The F.B.I. did not return phone calls yesterday about the matter.
Greg Clifford from ETE, notified the FBI because someone said not to firebomb them. How did that phone call go?
Umm, Hello??? Is this the FBI? Um, Yeah ... Um, I'd like to report that the president of a fundamental seminary who is an obscenely smart fellow with a great sense of rhetoric published his personal blog in which he said that no one should firebomb us over our choice of Chad Allen. Can you please look into this?
Um, sure. What would you like us to look into?
Well, he said that people shouldn't firebomb us.
Yes, I understand that. What would you like us to look into?
His comment that people shouldn't firebomb us, that firebombing would be an overreaction.
And what's the problem there?
Well, that's threatening?
Yes, he threatened us by saying that people shouldn't firebomb us?
What exactly is the threat?
That people shouldn't firebomb us.
That's a threat?
Of course. He used the word "firebomb" and "these men's offices" in the same sentence.
Didn't he also say that it would be an overraction to "firebomb these men's offices."
Do you want your offices firebombed?
So this blog agrees with your position that your offices shouldn't be firebombed?
Um ... um ... sorry, call on the other line. Gotta run ...
You know, I can't imagine any graceful way to get out of that conversation.
Have we really lost all sense of rhetoric in communication that we don't understand the nature of Bauder's comments? He said that firebombing would be an overreaction. It was clearly a use of rhetoric that should be understood by anyone who thoughtfully (or even not so thoughtfully) read the article.
Can we not get over ourselves enough to recognize these things?
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Last night, after the speech, the Democrats complained about a number of things. Two significant things stand out to me: 1) Bush is spending too much money; 2) Bush is not spending enough money. What??? They need to make up their minds. You cannot have it both ways.
Of course, the Democrats are not alone. Bush claimed to want to cut spending and make government smaller. He has made this claim for about seven years now (since he started campaigning). But so far, he has managed to preside over the largest government expansion in history. He has yet to veto one spending bill (or one other bill for that matter). In fact, while claiming to want to cut the budget last night, he pledged to increase federal spending in many categories. You cannot have it both ways.
The out of control budget is a major concern. We need some leaders. We need some people who will stand up and say "You can't have it both ways." The media seems too scared to confront either side on this issue.
The media likes to beat stories into the ground. Why not beat this double standard into the ground for a few weeks? If Bush, the Repubs, and Dems want to cut spending, then hold their feet to the fire.
Of course, this reveals the true nature of politics: "We are against it because they're for it." "He's spending too much money" means "He's not spending it where we want him to spend it." "He's cutting too much spending" means "He's not spending it where we want him to spend it."
Case in point: For years, the Dems said social security was in trouble. (These comments are part of the public record.) Until Bush got elected. Now the Dems claim that social security is fine.
Well, make up your mind already. Which is it? You want social security reform until you have to hand the opposition president a victory to get it? That is pure politics.
For years, the Republicans complained about high spending. Until Bush got elected. With federal spending at an all time high, the Repubs just keep on writing checks.
We need leaders. We have talkers. We have a mess.