Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's The End of the World and I Feel Fine

Once upon a time there was a little chicken, and everybody called him-- Chicken Little.

And one day while he was out walking, up in the sky a bird flew over and it dropped an acorn, and the acorn fell down and-- bip-- bopped him on his head. Chicken Little said “AWK! ” and looked up, and didn’t see anything, and he looked down and didn’t see anything.

So he said “Help, help the sky is falling! Help, help the sky is falling! I have to tell the King!” And he went running down the road, looking for the King.



Did you know that Christianity is dying?  While Time magazine asked the question about God's death a bit early(1966) , it seems that we we have finally caught up to their prophetic words...well not prophecy if these isn't a God,...so...good guess???..... This past week the Pew Forum published the results of their survey concerning the religious affiliations of Americans.  The big take away?  Self-identified Christians have shrunk as a representation of the population quite precipitously.  

If you are a believer, the sky seems to be indeed falling.  If you, on the other hand, have been praying(I mean wishing to science) that religious sentiments would go the way of the DoDo bird, the report was an encouraging affirmation of personal bias and hopes.

Is the sky really falling?  Are we on the precipice of the end of Christianity as we know it?  

Not exactly.

Ed Stetzer wrote a response to the Pew data and points out a glaring missing point.  Evangelical Christianity has GROWN nearly 3 million during the time period of the survey.  What the Pew survey shows is not actual numbers, but the share of the population.  During the time of the survey we have seen a rapid population growth from many regions of the world where Evangelical Christianity is far behind Catholic identification(though Catholocism shrank noticeably within their survey data).  And so while Evangelical Christianity clearly grew, it didn't grow as fast as the total population growth...THEREFORE...they shrunk as a portion of the population.

Something DID land on our heads.  It just wasn't the whole sky.  

What are we supposed to make of all of this?  How should we respond?  Should we be worried.

Let's make a couple of important broad points clear;

1- Truth is not a popularity contest.  Even if Evangelical Christianity was shrinking, that doesn't prove anything one way or the other about its veracity.  Conversely, its growth, in and of itself, doesn't prove anything either.  

2-  The goal of the Gospel is not to have the largest voting bloc and strongest political influence of other groups.  If anything, that is a distraction that has lead, historically, to terrible compromises and destructive behaviors.  


Within this there is something that we SHOULD be glad of.  And let me be clear, I don't mean glad in the sense of this being something great because of what it means in an eternal sense.....  

NO MORE PRETENDING!

For a long time Christianity has been synonymous with social/political order.  Meaning, without any personal thought or conviction, people would just identify as Christians without any concern of whether or not it really meant anything.  As the cultural pendulum has swung away from this there is no longer artificial social pressures to continue to identify with that which you do not really take seriously.  

Look at the "mainline" denominations today and you will see what the results of generations of nominal Christians have created.  One of the largest historical denominations in the US is the Presbyterian Church of The USA.  About a decade ago guess what they took out of their doctrine?  That Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  He is now listed as "unique to our faith tradition".  

For those who are not nerds for etymology like myself....the term, "Christian" is rooted in identifying with, and proclaiming, Jesus Christ(hence Christian) as the Son of God and the one and only hope for Salvation for all man kind.  You may disagree with this statement, BUT, that is the definition in a nutshell of what a Christian is and believes.  

Why do I think the mainline denominations are hemorrhaging members over the last decade?  Because they have become social clubs that don't make any claims to Truth, nor claims that that Truth has a claim on YOU.  At the end of the day, if what we do in "this" group is interchangeable with any other group, it becomes easy to become disengaged.  

The modern church has become what we were warned about in 2 Timothy 4:3---people gathering around teachers to tell them exactly what they want to hear.  And lets be honest, deep down inside, we don't really want(or NEED) an echo chamber affirming our self-centerdness.  We are desperate for Truth. We are desperate for conviction.  Accountability.  ETERNITY.  And talking about things that are nothing special, just "unique" to us, ain't cutting it.

So they sky IS falling.  But not in the way some people are going to tell you.  And before your sky starts to collapse on you make sure you are building towards eternity in Christ and Christ alone, because that is the foundation that will never fall.




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Virtue of Intolerance

If the zeitgeist of popular culture is to be believed, Tolerance is the highest ideal society must strive after.  And not just any old type of tolerance, but affirming, encouraging, never disagreeing with tolerance.  A common refrain one hears is the old canard, "we aren't supposed to judge". 

Is this sensible?

Logical?

Practical?

Of course not!

Follow the general amorphous blog of undefined tolerance to its inevitable conclusion;  No laws, no rules, no justice, total anarchy.  We do not tolerate bad behavior.  Nor should we. 

My son has a natural tendency to hit his sister over perceived slights and annoyances.  For the sake of my daughter I do not tolerate this behavior.  I correct it.  It brings about consequences for my son.  Not because I just arbitrarily decide to punish him, but because for his own sake he needs to be corrected and taught what is and is not acceptable behavior. 

Clearly when tolerance is preached from the steeples of cultural trend setters they do not surely mean that good and loving fathers must tolerate their child's inappropriate behavior?----well, perhaps some do---but they will never admit to it.

Tolerance has virtually no meaning when it is divorced from the immeasurably important value of intolerance.  And this immeasurable value is found in the basic logically consistent reality that there truly are things that are good and right and there are other things that are truly bad and wrong.  While defining the standards of either may at times be a challenge, it is not an impossible one.  If one is willing to use their brains.

If everything I have just indicated is True at all times for all people in all circumstances....Why is there such a preponderance of cries for 'tolerance', and a tolerance that seems to be void of all definable meaning and parameters?

Because it is not being used in the classical sense of the meaning of tolerance at all.

Tolerance is being patient and kind with someone even if they are wrong, or, they have offended you in some way.  And, tolerance only makes any sort of sense if it is being defined as a reflection of an active verb contrasting that you are tolerating something that is intolerable.  If it is not intolerable, than no tolerance is necessary.

I do not 'tolerate' my children's hugs, because they are not intolerable. 

But modern tolerance demands that one must not only accept what another is doing, but, that we must call it good.  To say different is to cross the unacceptable line into 'intolerable' behavior.  But again, it is impossible to BE tolerant if what you are tolerating is not intolerable originally.  And if you are not even able to express that something is indeed intolerable, how can anyone even know you are being tolerant.

It is a conundrum.


 
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
-Matthew 5:13-16

Do not fall victim to this worlds illogical and convoluted reasoning.  If you have been called by Christ, bought with a price, and belong to Him, you have a responsibility.  To speak truth.  To live truth.  And to do it with grace and patience. 


In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
Titus 2
It is sad that it doesn't go without saying.  But, even as we recognize the absurdity of the world around us.  Do not tolerate yourself, or others, dealing with it in a way that lacks grace, integrity and goodness.  No one will care about your scintillating logic and brilliant argumentation if you are a jerk. 
Be virtuously intolerant. 
 
 



Monday, April 27, 2015

No Matter Where You Go

My wife called me out the other day.  Yes, she calls me out quite regularly on any number of things because she is good for me like that.  This one really struck me.  She said that she could tell I have not been spiritually focused. 

As usual she was right.

Before baby number three arrived last fall I had found a really great life pattern with our little family of four.  Each day was deliberately managed with clear goals.  Professionally and personally.  I was in complete control of my schedule and was always able to cut out plenty of time for personal devotions. 

As a surprise to no one, a new baby messed up all my well thought out plans.

Then, right after the baby arrived our church made the decision to move towards closing/merging.(which will soon be its own post) Then I started a "new" job in our newly merged with church a few months later with a whole new set of priorities, people and schedules. 

God has been so good throughout it all, and we love where God has led us and our wonderful community at Mt Pleasant church to join with our brothers and sisters at Calvary Evangelical Church.  But in the midst of the whirlwind of all this new stuff I got frazzled and unfocused. 

I have gained 15 pounds(sad face) haven't been committing enough time to just 'being' in God's word and to the chagrin of the 10's of you, haven't been focusing my thoughts in written form on my internationally read blog(big in Asia.....for some reason...).

Sin starts sneakily.  Not that I am currently out trying to score drugs and beating up widows for their social security checks.  If sin was going from being solid to being a criminal overnight we would all recognize it before it got a hold of us and avoid it.  But it doesn't work that way.  Bit by bit, tip toe by tip toe, we sloooooowwwwllly lose focus and wake up one day, weeks/months/years later and wonder, "What just happened???"

When we do wake up and see that things just aren't the way they are supposed to be what do we do? 

Too often you know what we do?  Beat ourselves up about it.  Get down on ourselves.  Perhaps even double down on the previous mistakes, dig in our heels and throw up our hands in defeat.

That's ok.

I mean, not really.  Stop doing that. 

But it is ok because of Jesus.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables.  The lost sheep, the lost coin, and, the prodigal son.  What is the message in each of those.  It doesn't matter how what was lost was "lost" HE wants you back.  He will take off your filthy clothes, carry you on his back, and bring you home.  You belong to Him.  And even if the whole reason you are far from Him right now is your own doing, He is calling you. 

Without condition. 

He doesn't lecture the poor sheep when he finds it.  He doesn't tell the returning son, "told you so".  He says, "Rejoice, celebrate and be glad!  You have returned!"

We enslave ourselves with chains that God has not put upon us.  Someone once said that you can run 1000 miles from God, but when you turn around, He is right there as if you never left.  My wife reminded me that I was distracted.  So I turned back around.  Don't be a slave to the last mistake you made, it is not how God sees you.  Don't see yourself that way.  


Apparently it was a maze keeping him away the whole time.....


Monday, March 16, 2015

Parenting and the Cross

Being a parent forces you to focus on priorities.   Every moment of every day is limited.  And this is especially true when your kids are still quite little.  You blink and another year has passed.  Just the other day, my wife and I had lost track of the time and realized that we were about an hour behind on starting the bedtime routine.  Clearly this made for a relaxed evening of well-behaved children……

Success means knowing what is and isn’t important and not compromising on getting those most important priorities accomplished.  It is easy to get distracted by the non-essentials and miss out on key moments.  A five year old needs to learn to pick up their own room, but it is more important that they know they are loved than they have a clean room.  And it is vital that they don’t confuse being loved with a result of the cleanliness of their room!

Well-meaning parents will sadly sometimes miss the most important priority in what it means to be parent; Love.  Nothing else matters if your parenting isn’t driven by love.  A child who doesn’t feel like their parents instructions are coming from a place of love is a person who will grow up to be resentful of the behaviors and habits they were unfairly “forced” to have.

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless, and so is your faith” -1 Corinthians 15:14

Being a follower of Christ I have one priority.  Christ crucified and Christ risen.  As the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, our faith begin and ends with the message of the Cross.  Everything else hinges on that.  It is easy to focus on the peripherals first.  What I like to call the behavior modification aspects.  But Christ didn’t come to help us behave better, but to die for our sins, defeat sin and death, and offer, through HIS finished work, hope for eternity. 

The power of whatever I do as a preacher is sourced from one place.  The unconditional love offered at the Cross.  The people in our lives don’t need a better approach to achieving some sort of “better life” goals.  They need to hear the Gospel of the Cross. 

My kids need to know that they are loved deeply before what I teach them, hold them accountable to, and expect from them, makes sense.  And they need to know that their success and/or failure at achieving these standards is not the basis of whether their daddy loves them.  The love is unconditional, which gives them the freedom and hope to get back up when they fall. 

We need to know that we are deeply loved BEFORE we are equipped to pursue the Holiness that Christ calls us to.  And the Cross tells us that this love is not dependent upon how well we are currently doing at running hard after Christ.  People change because they are loved.  They can’t change so that they can get loved.

Some of us need more help as parents than others.....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Trust and Belief

With great confidence I am going to claim that none of my regular readers are PhD's in the field of Astrophysics.  Though none of us have spent the better part of a decade doing the indepth and challenging work associated with becoming an "expert" within this field, there are a number of facts that we will all confidently regurgitate;  Size of the sun, size of our galaxy, distance between planets, the movement of stars and comets, the speed of light, etc.  When we make these fact claims we do so with the utmost confidence that we believe that what we are repeating is true.  Why?  Because we implicitly trust the individuals and organizations that have told us so.

There is a virtually limitless amount of "knowledge" that the modern man possesses that has little to do with personal study and observation.  Though we can quote verbatim a Wikipedia article on the personal feelings of Robert E. Lee during the civil war, few of us have ever actually held in our hands and read physical letters penned by the general.  There is just too much important knowledge and information that we utilize in our day to day lives for us to do the necessary work to prove the veracity of our claims personally.  We believe the work of those we trust. 

But what happens when two honest people have wildly differing positions on a particular issue?  How is it even possible?  It has to do with who you choose to trust. 

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear"--2 Timothy 4:3

Thanks to the internet whatever your personal values, thoughts, opinions, activities, etc, are, you can find plenty of people to support you.  Not long ago I was reading about the growth of "fetish" communities.  Thirty years ago if you were a pedophile, you tried to get help, covered it up, tried to deal with it, or, acted on it and went to prison.  But what no one ever said, or, accepted, was that the proclivity towards pedophilia was "normal" or, "ok".  Now there are entire online created communities of predatory pedophiles who support each other, give tips and advice, and even plan international trips to countries with laxer child protection laws. 

While a pedophile in 1970 could still do some horrible damage, it was very limited in scope, and many potential predators never became predators because they didn't have anyone egging them on.  Today, if you are a potential predator, you are just a click away from people all over the world affirming your feelings and encouraging you to find ways to act on it.

Our human and self-driven desires cause us to seek out the "expert" advice of those who affirm what we already want to believe.  We start with a premise that whatever I "feel" must be right because I feel it so STRONGLY.  In some instances, there is natural internal and/or public aversion to such feelings.  Instead of responding to that natural aversion we instead look for someone to encourage the behavior or belief.  We TRUST that person BECAUSE they tell us what we want to hear, so we then integrate their affirmation as the foundation of our BELIEFS. 

Let me avoid putting a specific example within Christianity today in the cross hairs.  But ask yourself, what do you(and others) believe today compared to 20, 30, 50, 2000 years ago.  The rapidity in which these consistently believed Biblical positions are being reshaped has been breathtaking.  Why?  Because it is becoming easier and easier to gather around us teachers that tell us what we want to hear.

In contrast to what some "theologians" will argue, 2 Timothy 4:3 has a basic understood assumption built into it.  That there IS a sound doctrine.  And the second truth is that sound doctrine is in direct contrast to peoples natural desires. 

Theology today is crafted by a simple formula;  1- I feel or experienced "x", 2- I want to feel good about myself, not bad,(you can replace "myself" with "others") so I don't want "x" to cause me discomfort.  3-  I therefore subvert plain reading of scripture to be primarily interpreted by what makes me the most comfortable. 

Biblical theology has historically been crafted by; 1- Reading the Bible  2- Feeling or experiencing "x", 3- Shaping my response to "x" by what the Bible says.

We place our trust in what, or, who, makes us feel the best about ourselves.  Or, we put it in whatever or whoever says exactly what we have already decided.  And that becomes our belief. 

At the heart of everyone who rejects the Biblical teachings on any issue is that they are placing their trust in someone who has given them a way that makes them feel more comfortable.  And this happens with virtually zero cross examination.  They said what I was hoping to hear, I will just assume they are telling me the truth.  While they respond to teachers that disagree with their new position by immediately questioning everything, or, outright rejecting it because they don't like their response.  Again, with zero cross examination.  You said what I didn't want to hear, so you must be wrong/lying.

Your beliefs will be the result of who you trust.  Do you trust God's word?  Or, do you trust yourself and others first.

We want the candy so much we ignore important details.....

Monday, February 23, 2015

What my Kids Taught me About the Apocalypse

One of the tough things about having kids is that the ever present march of time is forever drawing attention to itself.  In my early 20's life was always "coming later".  Every day was fairly similar.  What you saw in the mirror in January is what you saw in the mirror in December.  There was always more time to accomplish something, to turn the corner, to get on track.  The rapidity with which life is now flying at me is frightening.  My infant daughter was happily chewing on teething biscuits, while sitting up in her bumbo chair, all afternoon.  I believe it was just a few weeks ago when my five year old son was doing the same thing. 

Instead of a virtual endless supply of "tomorrows" I am constantly wishing yesterday lasted juuussst a bit longer.  This oncoming rush of the inevitable future changes every moment of every day.  This evening I had to take all three kids to my three year olds dance class at five. 

What it would have looked like if it was just me going somewhere at five:

4:00--  Eat a snack
4:15-- Read something on the internet
4:30-- close my eyes for a  few minutes---the afternoon "sleepies" always get me
4:45-- Look for my keys
4:50--Drive to where I need to be

What it looks like taking three kids ages; 5 months, 3, and, 5 somewhere at 5
3:30-- Try to get a snack around so they don't melt down before we get back home around 6
3:45-- change a diaper
3:50-- argue with the three year old about going to the potty
3:55--  Find the multiple clothes that have been thrown in different rooms of the house instead of staying on
4:00-- Fill milk cups
4:05--  Get a bottle ready for the baby
4:10-- Find shoes
4:15-- Spend five minutes anxiously looking for keys that "someone" moved
4:20-- change a diaper
4:25-- Try to find coats
4:30-- Get baby in car seat
4:35-- start getting kids in car
4:40-- run back in house for forgotten NECESSARY items
4:45-- run back in house for sippy cups
4:50--leave while yelling at everyone to just be quiet

If you have kids this probably looks very familiar.

Having kids has taught me an essential life truth.  Tomorrow is going to sneak up on you whether you are prepared or not. And if you don't get prepared for it, it will go verrrrryyyy poorly for you.  Things are going to happen.  Much of it out of your control.  Once we realize that, come to terms with it and accept it, we HAVE to start preparing for it. 

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 Paul is speaking to the Church about the reality that the One who has risen WILL return.  And we should not let it, "surprise us like a thief in the night."  So much of life is living as if tomorrow won't come.  Then, it does.  Which often means being woefully unprepared. 

Being a good parent means accepting that every day  I have to stay one step ahead of my kids.  There are NO breaks.  After a while you can even begin to sense problems minutes ahead of time and cut them off at the pass.  Ever vigilant is the only way to succeed in parenting. 

Living this way can seem exhausting.  Especially if you are one of those poor uninitiated innocents without kids yet.  But it is worth it.  One, because staying prepared makes our lives so much easier and more enjoyable, and, two, because there is nothing in my life that is more satisfying than being a parent and loving, and being loved, by my kids. 

Paul's point is similar in value and purpose.  We can pretend all we want that tomorrow isn't going to come, but it won't change that it will.  So what are we doing about it right now?

It is too often that many of us live out our faith with an attitude of, "eh, we will figure it out when it's time".  Paul shouts at us, "Wake up, it's coming, be faithful, encourage one another, stay sharp!"

Whether Jesus comes back tonight, or, in 1000 years, are you living your faith awake and sober?  Or, are you drunkenly sleeping away the day?

You will have an End, and they always come earlier than expected

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's a good thing that the "American" church is dying!

Being a parent is tough.  Disciplining your kids is tough.  Our family has reached the stage where my oldest two have at least a dozen altercations a day.  A lot of the classic, "she's sitting to close to me!!!!!" fights to break up.  What can be extremely frustrating for us is dealing with fake "I'm sorry's".  You know what I am talking about.  Sibling gets mad and hits their brother or sister.  You tell them to give them a hug and say that they are sorry.  They slowly walk over, don't make eye contact, mumble out a forced, "I'm sorry", look at you and say, "I did it".

We all know that they really don't mean it.  But you have to start somewhere.  One day they will no longer be under my care(and control) and I pray that they grow into people who don't have to be forced to say that they are sorry when they mess up.  In this stage of their development, we recognize that my five year old is not prepared to make his own life decisions and go off on his own.  Will he be prepared to one day live without dad guiding him?  I can guarantee one thing though, if I infantilize him from today until he is 18, he will really struggle making decisions on his own. 

In our lifetimes we have seen one of the most radical cultural and sociological shifts to have ever occurred in such a short window of time.  Only 50 years ago it would have been virtually unheard of for someone to not at least claim some sort of allegiance to Christianity.  And membership in at least some sort of denomination was a given, especially if you were going to be "somebody" within your community.  Today, the fast growing segment of the "religious" population are the "nones".  This means that people who have ZERO religious affiliation are rapidly outgrowing an ever shrinking involvement by the populace in churches.  Only around 50% of Americans even go to church consistently.

Now, before this motivates you to go posting some sort of viral meme on Facebook about how if we let kids in school have bibles there would never be a school shooting EVER EVER EVER again....let me tell you something.

This is a good thing! 

This might be a great thing!!

For centuries involvement in a church and self-proclamations of a Christian faith was a non-negotiable.  Like a five year old following rules they didn't care about, many people went through the motions because they had no choice.  Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was arguably one of the most famous pastors in the 1800's.  To this day his wealth of teachings and sermons are inspiring future generations of church leaders.  And he estimated that less than half of his congregation was really saved.  And that is why he made a point to regularly preach the gospel. 

Back in the 1800's.....

When everyone claimed they were a Christian....... 

One of the most influential pastors of the past  two to three hundred years, was fairly confident that half the people who called him their pastor didn't really get the Gospel. 

The Church in the West, and particularly America, has been co-opted by interests and motivations that are not generally in alignment with scripture and the Gospel.  It was the nations biggest country club.  If you wanted to get ahead, you better get on the board at your local "First Baptist Presby Methodist Church of Christ Redeemer" so that you could make friends with the other movers and shakers in town.  Presidential hopefuls had to make pilgrimages to make nice with famous church leaders so they could signal to everyone that they were just like them.....Nominally into that Jesus fellow.

What was the result of the Church being hand in hand with power?  People who care about power running the Church.

With the growth of the internet, more and more stories are popping up about horrific leadership abuses, coverups and church implosions.  There are even compelling(and damning) research papers that delve into why the pulpit attracts people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at an exponentially higher rate than they exist in society in general.  As long as the Church can be seen as a gateway to power and money, people who want power and money will gravitate towards the Church.  Which only leads to more and more people saying, "I'm done with this".

Ok.  Enough of the bad...

Christ did not come to establish an Earthly kingdom where all of his buddies got to be in charge of everyone else.  Jesus had to even correct one of their moms in Matthew 20:20 when she specifically asked that her little special angels be given cushy roles.  Instead, Christ established His Church for the purpose of proclaiming the good news and to make disciples of every nation.  And in practice it was to be accomplished through serving others sacrificially(Matthew 20:16--First last, last first passage), while knowingly accepting persecution(Matthew 24:9---you will be persecuted and the nations will hate you because of me passage). 

Does this sound like many of our churches or leaders today? 

We are a lazy Church in America today.  We have had it so easy for so long we just want to believe that everyone should just see it our way.  And, if we face even a modicum of "persecution" we raise millions of dollars to politically fight our enemies and elect people who give us just enough lip service that we think they will at least vote the way we want them to. 

When the Church in America stops worrying about losing its power, or its perception of prestige in our communities and nations, THEN it can get focused on what it exists for.  Proclaiming Christ crucified!  And when that becomes the heart beat or our churches, they WILL have less political power, and perhaps even less money.  But guess what?  Then we will stop finding ourselves led by people who were there for the money and power!

I don't want people coming to church just because they have to.  No more than I want my son to only say he is sorry because I told him to do it.  We should all desire that people have their lives radically, and permanently, changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When we stop relying on power and control to get people to act "right" we can begin to do the real work of letting the Gospel change them from the inside out.


You will be shocked to know that signs like this are not turning around the
fortunes of the American Church