Monday, August 25, 2014

A Hypocritical Blogpost

It happens all the time. 

I just had another conversation from a faithful member concerning sin in their lives. 

If you think this blog is about is...but it's about me too.  So don't worry, I will happily go through this trial with you.

I was told how their particular sin was hindering their lives.  No matter how many times they tried to defeat this sin, it came back and bit them in the butt again.  Every single time they failed over the sin, they felt like a hypocrite.  And there was no place more evident for these feelings than when they were at church in community with other believers.

Don't worry...I go through the same thing.

I mean, how can anyone honestly sing praises to God when we've struggled so mightily just this last week with sin and failed the very God we say we serve?  Doesn't that make the time of praise full of just empty words devoid of any true meaning?  In our minds, it becomes just a clever masking, putting on a good face in hopes that no one can pierce the fake veneer with their gaze and expose the terrible wretch seated just inches away from the saints we have surrounded ourselves with.  The sincerity seen on the others' faces further condemns our actions and makes us feel unworthy of the presence of this great cloud of witnesses that surely shouldn't include us.  And if we find ourselves in a place of leadership or teaching within the faithful, it makes us feel more faithless still.

The pressure to keep the image of holiness is compounded by the fact that the messages from the pulpit or our Sunday School classes or Bible studies are so convicting, hitting us in the very place of our imperfections...that despair is often our response, especially when the altar call or call to repentance remains visited by so few...if any at all.  Because of these feelings of shame, it is easy to feel defeated all the time and give in to the false notion that until our lives are cleaned up, we are useless to the community of believers.  After all, we must be the only ones in this holy place that struggle with these things.

The sinless ideal can be so oppressive that those crushed under its weight feel that they have no other recourse than to leave the fellowship of believers altogether along with the unrealistic expectations perpetuated by its existence.  Once removed from this all-encompassing presence, the feelings of guilt begin to subside, often being replaced by bitterness as run-ins with the saints they surrounded themselves with expose a similar struggle with sin never acknowledged in the company of other believers.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici
Hypocrite.  They think to themselves.  That's why I left the church in the first place. 

Another successful convert to hypocritical Christianity.

How Hypocrisy Happens

The modern day American church has fallen victim to two equally destructive lies that threatens its very mission of sharing Christ to the world and creating true community among believers.
  1. The presence of sin in our lives makes us a hypocrite concerning our faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. Confessing to sin is a sign of weakness and an admission of unholiness and unworthiness of Christ's sacrifice in our lives.
If the first lie is believed but not the second, then we live powerless lives for Christ always weighted down by our failings.  We constantly confess to our struggles but never fully believe that "if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"  (1 John 1:9).  We continually attempt to be perfected in the flesh believing our salvation and sanctification depends solely on our own behavior instead of Christ's finished work on the cross and the Holy Spirit's transformation of our lives to that of Christ's. 
We fall victim to the same lie that faced the Galatian believers and try to continually prove to God that we are worthy of the very sacrifice we could never make.  It's like acknowledging we were unworthy of the initial sacrifice of Christ, but now that we believe in Him we perceive it a burden for Jesus to bear our imperfections again.  
It is the weight of our sense of hypocrisy that will eventually drive us from the church.  The judgment that we put on ourselves every single time we fall short becomes unrelenting.  It becomes easier to battle these demons in quiet solitude rather than public humiliation of confession again and again.  The sentence of hypocrisy is firmly placed on us with no hope of overcoming such a charge. 
If the second lie is believed and not the first, then we live prideful lives, haughtily condemning those who struggle with sin, especially the big sins (whatever those may be).  We do not see the contradiction of the grace that we afford ourselves in our private lives because we never admit to the struggle with sin in community.  
This type of lie can be believed most easily by those of us in authority in the church or those desiring authority.  As more influence has been granted by we who have been perceived to be faithful, a fear grows among us in leadership that any sign of sinfulness disqualifies us from the authoritative position we enjoy.  So confession becomes reserved, in our mind, to the immature or to those who are simply insincere about their relationship with Christ.  Ironically, because of this attitude, many in leadership become vulnerable to falling to the same "big" sins we condemn because of inability to confess any sins.  
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We deliberately forget the Word of God that condemns such action.  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us"  (1 John 1:8, 10).  
When that happens, it is those outside who rightfully level the charge of hypocrisy against us, though we ourselves feel immune to such accusations until such time egregious sin is found in our lives.    
However, when both of these lies are believed, then the charges of hypocrisy abound.  The church stands condemned both from the inside and outside. 
What's worse, it creates an atmosphere of insincerity that nullifies the grace of Christ and prevents the gospel from being rightly conveyed.  It is impossible to share the grace of Christ to individuals who don't believe that He can truly forgive them their sins or are surrounded by "believers" who give the appearance that they never sin and look down on those who do. 
The reason why the charge of hypocrisy against the church hurts so much and has us so defensive is because it is often true.

Defeating Hypocrisy

To overcome the charges of hypocrisy, the body of believers must adopt two stances and know they are what we are called to do in true Christian community.  Adopting these two stances will also help us to understand when false accusations against us or the church are being leveled.
  1. Every believer will continue to struggle with sin until the day they meet Jesus.
  2. The confession of our sin to one another provides grace and support for our struggles and points others to the true hope of liberation and forgiveness through Christ.
We are not alone. every congregation around the world...struggles with sin.  Period. 
Anger.  Unforgiveness.  Pornography.  Violence.  Worry.  Doubt.  Theft.  Cursing.  Drunkenness.  Addiction.  Unfaithfulness.  They are present within every gathering of the faithful.  It is found among the leaders, among the lifelong members, among the newly converted and among those yet to experience the grace of Jesus Christ.
We are commanded to "bear one another's burdens"  and "forgive one another, as the Lord as forgiven us"  (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:13b).  But how can we fulfill these commands of Christ unless we truly believe that the sin that we struggle with is a common experience among the faithful  (1 Cor. 10:13)?  Not only is it a common experience, but a common experience that we may fail often (Luke 17:3-4).  We must truly believe this and become comfortable with this reality if we are ever going to extend grace to ourselves that Christ already has done for confessed and repented sin (even if we just screwed up an hour ago).  Our justification has never been in our own actions, but through Christ's finished work on the cross.  So can we stop pretending that it ever was anything else?
We must be bold enough to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).  This needs to start with the leadership.  I think many who come to me for help are often surprised when I confess that many of their struggles are things that I contend with too.  Often our times of prayer are not a one way street of someone who has conquered a sin but rather a mutual struggle where we both seek the grace and forgiveness promised through Christ in an attitude of repentance.  But according to James, healing only comes through confession and the accountability that accompanies it.  So our own healing depends upon the courage to confess that we are in need of it to others...even the ones we are praying with as leaders.
The beauty of this confession is that it frees both ourselves and the people we are praying for from the unrealistic expectation that it is through our own goodness or righteousness by which we are perfected.  Rather, we, just like they, are seeking the same Savior as the solution to our sinfulness. 
It must bleed through to the community who becomes unafraid to flood the altar week after week praying for the same sins over and over again, not in a meaningless act of show, but a sincere desire of repentance unashamed for the need of the grace of God through Christ so everyone can see that our hope has never been founded in our sinless perfection...only His.
Only then will the world's constant drumming of hypocrisy toward the Christian be drowned out by the grace, freedom and forgiveness only Christ offers.  It is this very grace, freedom and forgiveness that we as Christians ourselves believe we receive from Christ...and hope present to others...imperfect as we may be.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Retiring the "R" Word

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I saw it again the other day in an article that I read.  I almost blew a gasket.  However, I am also a patient man (well, sometimes) and I am reminded that a righteous man is supposed to be quick to listen and slow to anger (James 1:19-20).

I decided that before I started my rant I should do some research in case I was wrong.  So I turned in my Bible (in this case to see if I could find any evidence in the Word of God that this was even supposed to exist.  However, try as I may, the word "revelant" wasn't found anywhere in the Bible concerning the a matter of fact, it is nowhere in the Bible at all.  Just to be on the safe side, I also inserted the word "interesting" in its place and came up with similar results.

For nearly 17 years, through Bible college and nearly every Christian publication that I have ever read, pastors and Christian leaders have been encouraged to make sure that church and the breaking of the Word of God was "relevant" to the lives of the people in the congregation.  Every poll about the church and why people stopped going contains the answer "It wasn't relevant to my life anymore."  Maybe you have heard the same thing.

First of all, "Who talks like this about anything other than church?"

I believe that there are two categories, we as human beings tend to place things.  Sometimes, to our harm, we get these categories confused.  When it comes to the gathering of believers or reading the Word of God, I believe that as the church we have accepted their placement in a category that God never intended.

Let me explain.

Since when have you ever heard someone say, "You need to make math (or english, reading, or writing) relevant for your students to learn it."?  Don't get me wrong.  It is nice to have interesting teachers who make learning fun.  But math doesn't need to be relevant for students to learn it because it is already necessary.  Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing are necessary activities toward living a productive life (at least here in the US).

Any career that you or I choose to pursue have things that are either relevant to that career path or necessary to that career path.  Relevant things are interesting pieces of information that can enhance the necessary things that you already know or stand alone because they are not necessary for anything, just enjoyable to the person who finds it interesting.  Necessary things are pieces of information that are foundational for you to do the job in the first place.  People can still work a job without relevant things (though relevant things may help you do them better), but it is impossible for people to work a job without necessary things. 

Things in the revelant category shift with the whims and fancies of the culture.  They include entire industries.  The entertainment culture is an industry entirely based on relevancy.  However, tomorrow if every sport were taken away, if every television and internet device stopped working, if every video game system fritzed out and every movie theater closed their doors, while there would be a shock to our system because we had become accustomed to including those things in our lives, ultimately, because those things were only relevant and not necessary to living, we would find something else to do.  Our lives would be affected, but not harmed.

Relevancy is concerned primarily with gaining attention by appealing to feeling or felt need (not real need).  But the things of necessity do not care how relevant you think it is, you need them whether you feel like you need them or not.

Let's take the Word of God for another example.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:16-21 and Psalm 78:1-8 make it very clear that parents are supposed to teach children to follow the Lord, to know the Word of God and to speak of it daily in their homes.  This is necessary.  It is a command, not a suggestion.  They are told in Deuteronomy 28 the consequences of both their obedience and disobedience to the command.  Other passages like Psalm 1, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12, show the relevance of the Word of God but do not take away from its necessity. 

And God doesn't let you off the hook only reading some of the Word of God because you think that the other parts are boring, or irrelevant, or hard to understand.  He didn't ask your opinion and doesn't need your input on what should or shouldn't be studied in His Word

The book of Judges shows what happens when a generation grows up that neither knew the Lord nor what He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).  The only way that could have happened is if the people of Israel were not teaching their children the things of the Lord.  Reading through the book of Judges, one gets a pretty good view of what happens to a culture when they exchange the necessary for the relevant.  The book ends with these words, "In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25)...and its not a pretty sight.

By the same token we are commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25:  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day (of Christ's return) drawing near."  Throughout the Bible, there is an expectation of interdependency as believers to one another.  Every "one another" passage in the New Testament is the assumption of the church meeting together.  Whole sections of Scripture are dedicated to the different forms and functions the church is supposed to have together (see 1 Cor. 12-14; Romans 12; Ephesians 4).  Every epistle written is to a local body of believers (or multiple local bodies).

And while it is true that some of these representations of Christ had such major problems it would make even some of our bad churches in America blush (see 1 Corinthians), never was the instruction given to stop meeting together or form another entity in its place.  (Obviously doctrinal error to the point of the distortion of the gospel of Christ is an exception to the rule, however, one must be prayerful about that too.)  Somehow despite our imperfections (and there are many), God in His providence has decided that maturity comes only when we are together using our gifts for His glory (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

But with the push for the church to become "revelant" to the culture around us, we have stopped preaching its necessity for the believer.  Not necessary for salvation, but necessary because of other important reasons. 

First, it is the command of Christ.  Christ Himself implies it in Matthew 18:15-20 on how to handle correction within the church.  We are further told in John 14:15-24 that if we love Jesus we will obey His commands.  I can find many places in the Scriptures that speak of the need of believers to meet together, I can find none that exclude this very important facet from the Christian's life.  (If anyone can find Scripturally otherwise to the things I am saying...I will retract this entire post.)

Second, as mentioned before, our meeting together is needed for our maturity.  Ephesians 4:11-16 puts it this way:  "It was He (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of serivce, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."  According to this passage, only when we meet together and work together are we granted maturity in the faith.

Our focus on relevancy within the church has caused us to become consumers of faith instead of committed followers of Christ.  People leave because of conflict, because of work, because of sleep, because what's being taught isn't scratching the itch they have at that moment (or doesn't agree with how they are living), because the worship is too loud, too contemporary, too soft or too old, because the pastor is boring, the teaching isn't dynamic, or doesn't use enough technology, because the children's ministry (or youth ministry) isn't as good as the other churches they've been to...and none of those reasons are biblical!  They are only excuses to get us out of the church, to become church critics (and hoppers) to the point that we realize that the church will never be relevant to our lives, to keep us from using our gifts to build others up and to eventually give up on the church as a whole so that we may remain blissfully in our infancy.

Maybe what really needs to be done is for pastors and teachers to stop trying to be relevant and start teaching our people that meeting together wasn't designed to be's necessary. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keeping Priorities Straight

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Those of you who know me know that I am organizationally challenged.  Actually, that last sentence is probably an understatement.  But when I say that I am organizationally challenged, it only involves the physical things in life (messy offices, clean houses, meeting deadlines, etc...).  However, in the area of spiritual matters, I am very organized because God is very organized.

Within the Scriptures, God has given us several lists on the right order our priorities are to take.  I find this comforting because I am a guy and guys tend to want things spelled out for them.  Give me a task and I can complete it with ease.  Expect me to do a task, hint at it overtly, but never tell me've only got about a 10% chance of it happening (that number is probably high).

Because God is so organized, I have come up with a list based upon the Scriptures on how our lives are supposed to look.

1.  Our relationship with God
2.  Our relationship with our husband/wife
3.  Our relationship with our children
4.  Our provision for our family
5.  Our ministry to others

This list is based off of the following Scriptures:  Mark 12:28-31, Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Timothy 3:1-5, 1 Timothy 5:8.

I have found that whenever one of these priorities is elevated improperly, it messes with everything it displaces.  For example, when our provision (our work) becomes more important than any of our relationships then the list looks like this.

4.  Our provision for our family
1.  Our relationship with God
2.  Our relationship with our husband/wife
3.  Our relationship with our children
5.  Our ministry to others

Notice how everything on the list is negatively affected because of this.  I am sure you can think of families who have been hurt because the idea of work or the false impression that provision (which is biblical) includes having all the best stuff (which isn't biblical at all).  The lie that is perpetuated is that a man or woman is loving their family by working all the time (not out of necessity) and spending no time with their family at the very expense of that family they are supposed to love.  You may notice that "our ministry to others" wasn't displaced on the list.  However, I have found that when problems with our relationships with God and family take place, it directly impacts any ministry we are able to effectively do for others.

Now being organized in spiritual matters and being good at them are two different things.  While I love how simple this list is, keeping this list in the right order is a constant challenge.  Because I am a pastor, my #4 & #5 are combined and I do them because of my love for God, which means I have a tendency to mix up #1 with #4 & #5 at the neglect of #2 & #3. 

And then there is the list itself.  It can become a checklist rather than motivated through a relationship based on love.  That's what happened to the Ephesian believers that Jesus talked to in Revelation (see Rev. 2:1-7).  We can do the same thing with all of our relationships.  We can so easily forget that our love is to proceed our task that we count our task as our love.

That last statement may be hard to grasp so let me give you an example. 

A husband who is providing for his wife, does the dishes for his wife, goes out with his wife every week on Friday, yet sees these things as things that he has to do to sustain his marriage, has not loved his wife because the motivation is on the task being used as duck tape for their relationship.  This same husband could blow up at his spouse and name all of this list as evidence of his love, feeling justified, but completely missing the point.

Consider the words of Jesus found in John 14:15-24.  Four times Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey my commands" (3 times positively, once negatively).  The action is motivated by love.  This is how God can say that His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).  It is never a burden to do something for someone you love.  (Don't make the mistake of reading into that that it is never hard.  We do plenty of hard things, but those "hard" things we deem worth it are often motivated by love.)

If that same husband mentioned above, did all the same things for his wife, but the motivation was love, he wouldn't have to keep a list of what he has done or worry about what he may have missed.

In God's economy, love always proceeds tasks.  I believe that it is intentional that God places at the top of His list relationships fueled by love before any important tasks.  It is a constant reminder to us that no important work for Him can be done without love.  Love is the factor that makes us desire to keep this list straight, while at the same time, preventing us from becoming legalistic about it.

My prayer for both you and I is that we will love well today and keep our priorities straight.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The question that needs to be asked...and answered

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A few years ago I had a student come to me before youth group and ask a very insightful question.  He asked, "Why is it that when I come to your church I hear one thing about the Bible, God & Jesus, but when I go to my mom's church I hear the exact opposite?"

How can the message of Christ be so radically different from one church to another?  Why is it possible to find one church that affirms gay marriage, gay clergy, living together relationships, etc... while another sees these same actions as abominations?  I could mention many other areas of disagreement in varying degrees of importance, however, I would like to stick with the one I've already mentioned because it is the lightning rod issue of the day and needs to be boldly addressed.

The confusion in this student's question was sincere.  He wanted to have a basis for belief to know what was right, but he was given a contradiction that couldn't be rationalized away with the trite answer:  "It doesn't matter which church you go to, as long as you are going to church."  Now he was confronted with something that absolutely couldn't be true in both places.  One had to be right and another had to be wrong.

The implications of this answer is deep and could even touch to the core of whether or not a person is truly saved by the Jesus they believe in or whether or not the Jesus they believe in even exists.

This schism, as deep as it is between churches, is really a simple one to decipher.  It can be done with one simple question.

Who gets to define what sin is?

It's not a pleasant question to ask, but it is a foundational one.  Everyone who claims the name of Jesus Christ will say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  But we have to be able to identify what sin is in order to accept and appreciate His sacrifice.  We also have to understand what sin is because in our new life in Christ, we are told that we are free from its bondage and are to no longer walk in it (Rom. 6:1-14).

So is sin defined by God through the self (conscience), through the culture or through the Scriptures?

The self?

80% of all people in our culture say that their basis of truth is found within themselves.  They themselves are the sole authority for what is right and wrong for them.  They place no judgment on anyone else for anything.  Their conscience is their guide.

But does that make sense of what is recorded in the Scriptures?  The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is a great personal example.  Adultery was her personal choice that, at the moment, felt right.  Though I can't get inside her head because I do know that all of us do things we don't think is right, some part of her had to justify it to commit the action.  If she had convinced herself that it was right at the time, wasn't it right if she was the sole authority God had given to decide what sin was? 

And while she wasn't condemned for her action by Jesus, Jesus does tell her firmly, "Go and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11b).  To what is Jesus appealing to if she is the only authority under heaven for which God has entrusted the very idea of sin? 

And what of the Scriptures that seem to tell us that our hearts are the worst of places to find truth?

"The heart is deceitful about all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?"  Jeremiah 17:9

It doesn't seem that our own proclivities are a good basis for defining right and wrong are or what sin is in the eyes of God.

The culture?

But what if Jesus, in confronting the woman caught in adultery, was merely appealing to a greater authority that God has established through the culture?  This is the appeal of many who are liberal (progressive) in their understanding of the Word of God.  Their view is that God uses the culture through the guidance of the Spirit to open our minds to new things that God wants to teach us which we weren't previously prepared for.

Consider the following quote from a Progressive (Liberal) Pastor James A. Forbes Jr. in his book "Whose Gospel?  A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism":

For the second half of my ministerial years, I have served in progressive circles where a different set of values prevail.  I taught at a progressive seminary and then became the pastor of an open and affirming congregation, The Riverside Church in New York City, after a long and intense grappling with the issue of sexuality under the leadership of my predecessor, William Sloane Coffin, voted on June 2, 1985, to affirm what is called A Statement of Openness, Inclusion, and Affirmation.  It condemned all acts of harassment, exclusion, violence, and intimidation based on homophobia; sought to address homophobia in the church; created programs about sexuality; and welcomed gay and lesbian persons as full equals in Christ.  The statement represents the spirit emerging in other congregations at the time, a spirit now found in increasing numbers of congregations.  The church seeks to guide individuals in greater freedom and responsibility to decide when and under what circumstances they would become sexually active.  Such sexual freedom was so accepted that a friend of mine once asked, "What behavior would be considered a sin at this church?"  My answer to her was that it probably would be considered a sin to try to make a list of sins by which to judge other people. (Emphasis mine)  Of course this is an exaggeration, but not by far.  Progressive churches are more likely to err in defining what a communal sense of values would include than drawing up a list of sins.  The emphasize following Jesus's example of being more ready to include than to exclude.  (Pg. 40-41)

Do you see what has happened here?  Culture has become the only influence of determining what sin is.  The reflection given by this pastor is simply a mirror of what our culture already accepts.  The culture accepts homosexual and premarital sexual relationships and frowns upon anything deemed as judgmental, therefore God must be using the culture to broaden our horizons concerning these subjects.

There are two problems with this approach though.

First, if this were true, then we would expect this standard to be experienced throughout the Scriptures.  The Roman culture is one of marked difference than the Jewish or the emerging Christian culture.  Romans 1:18-32 is not just a condemnation of unrighteous actions, it is a description of the Roman culture that existed at the time.  If the culture was truly God's vehicle for expanding the horizons of the church and revealing new truths, then we should see God saying something to this extent:  Though the way of life around you is much different than our way of life, God is using this culture to reveal truth that you should follow, as we follow what God has revealed to us.  However, whether this passage or the passage found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, we see a consistency of God passing judgment on the prevailing culture in lieu of another standard.

Second, if this were true, then how could anything definitively be defined at "sin".  If the sinful standards that God presupposes through one culture is different in another culture where the same action is not defined as sinful, how could anyone be sure whether or not they were breaking the commands of God?  Is it truly conceivable that Jesus died on the cross for our sin (where in one culture is partially defined by homosexuality and premarital sexual relations) so another culture could participate in the same actions (yet not call it sin)?  Do you not see how this destroys the very notion of what "sin" is, thus not only making the meaning of the word meaningless, but by extension making the very sacrifice of Christ meaningless, as well?

The Scriptures?

Paul in his letter to the Romans appeals to a different authority:  God Himself, apart from self and apart from culture.

What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.  For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.  (Romans 7:7-12)

This law that Paul is appealing to is found in the Old Testament.  It was what was given to Moses by God Himself.  It was the standard set by God so His people and the culture which they were a part of would know definitively when they had crossed the line of what was acceptable into that which was sinful.  Through this full passage of Scripture (Romans 7:7-25; 8:1-4), we are shown our sinful human nature to gravitate toward those things we have been told is wrong (and its penalty...death), our futility to overcome those things through our own power and the victory and freedom from this struggles given to us by Christ.

There is an inherit danger of choosing wrongly concerning who defines what sin is.  If we fall prey to either proclaiming ourselves the arbiters of sin or our culture, then we run the risk of creating a Jesus of our own creation who never lived and has no power to save.  Many in today's culture have fallen victim to this vain philosophy and though I cannot judge their hearts, I fear they may hear these words from the Lord Jesus Christ:  And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'  (Matthew 7:23)

We have a great Savior in Jesus.  But in order for Him to be the Savior He has proclaimed Himself to be, He has to have the right to diagnose and define the problem as well as provide the solution.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is It All About Advertising?

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The SuperBowl is coming!  You know what that means...commercials!  Not just ordinary commercials either.  Whole creative teams come together to hopefully make an advertising campaign that people will never forget, paying millions of dollars for a 30 or 60 second spot.

Here are some of my favorites:

But why do companies pan out so much cash for cute, funny and hopefully unforgettable commercials?

Answer:  So that their audience of 100 million people might see their product, become interested in their product and hopefully go out and buy what they are trying to sell.

Seems simple enough, right?

It works too.  Just after Christmas, my family went out to Buffalo Wild Wings (which we saw from a commercial)...and while we were there looking at their bazillion TVs, streaming games from all around the country, a commercial came on for night glasses.  The night glasses were supposed to make driving at night easier by making the roads brighter while cutting down from glare of oncoming vehicles.

For those who know my wife, she has an eye condition that will continue to get progressively worse, unless the Lord intervenes.  I thought these glasses would be a good way to help her with her night driving.  So from BDubs, we went across the street to the mall where there was a store called "As Seen on TV".  Inside the store, I found those same glasses and purchased them for Shannon. 

Of course, we didn't know if they were really going to work or if they were a sham, but the product was placed on a commercial in a place where I would see it.  It piqued my interested enough to visit a store where the glasses could be found.  The price was reasonable enough to take a chance on purchasing a pair.  And the result was that Shannon continues to use the glasses because they really do help.  I might even get a pair for myself.

Advertising actually works!!  But what exactly is advertising?

Simply put, advertising is just witnessing on behalf of a product instead of Jesus.  The ingredients are all the same.  Belief that the item sold (or service sold) is good.  Faith that, when purchased, the product will make a tangible difference in the lives of others, who will hopefully then, tell others about your amazing product, leading to more customers.

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?  I mean, when was the last time you highly recommended something to someone?  Probably not that long ago.  Whether it was a movie, a car, a restaurant, a hotel, etc..., all of us have given someone unsolicited advice on things we thought best because of how those things have impacted our lives.

Jesus believed in advertising.  When He was here on earth, He sent His disciples to towns ahead of Him so they would be ready when Jesus came to them (Matthew 10:1-16; Luke 10:1-16).  He prepared them for what they should expect, as far as reaction from the people (Matthew 10:17-42).  And when they came back from their advertising campaign, they were greatly encouraged at all God had done through them (Luke 10:17-24).

After Jesus rose from the dead, He basically said...ADVERTISE TO EVERYONE ABOUT ME!!!!!

Of course, He put it more eloquently than that.  Here's what He actually said:

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All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:18-20)

But the ingredients of our obedience to this command are found in the formula in advertising.  First, we have to believe that telling others about Christ is good, in other words we have to believe in Christ before telling others about Him.  Second, we have to believe that telling others will make a significant difference in their lives.  Third, we want those affected as we to do the same by telling even more people about Jesus.

Our world today is shameless in their advertising for what they believe.  If you work a job, you may have been asked to say or do things that you thought was crazy, all for the hopes of attracting more business.  The question is:  Are we willing to be just as shameless in our proclamation of Christ?  The answer to that question may very well reveal how much you actually believe in Him. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Biblical Case for Polygamy

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I know what you are thinking.  Somehow, I'm not satisfied with my wife and am looking for some backdoor excuse to love another.  I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Believe it or not, this post really isn't about me at all.

I've been a pastor for the past 12 years.  Much of that time has been spent with youth and young adults.  There has been an alarming trend I have seen over these years.  Guys are disappearing from the ranks of the faithful.  It can be seen in the massive epidemic of single parent families, mainly lead by women (80%).  Even when the men are still in the relationship, it is often the women who have taken up the role of spiritual leadership, as the men have either abandoned the faith or never had it in the first place.

Pastor Mark Driscoll has stated that the main reason guys aren't involved in the faith is that the church has catered to a population of women and not allowed them to be "dudes".  (You can check out his comments here beginning at the 1:54 mark.) 

I respectfully, yet wholeheartedly, disagree.  I have run a youth group for the last 12 years and it is definitely geared for guys.  Yet, when it comes to leadership and responsibility, the guys run.  No matter the challenge, the vision or the high calling to lead in changing the world for Christ, guys are the last to take up the calling in youth group and are usually the first to bolt for the door after youth group is over.  I commend Mark Driscoll for creating an environment conducive for young men being biblically challenged, but I'm not seeing it on an individual level. 

Maybe it is just the predictable outcome of a culture that is marked by guys fleeing from their responsibilities in marriage and family, while pursuing their own endeavors (be it a career or another relationship).  Or maybe it is the result of the culture itself stating that husbands and fathers are no longer necessary.  (You can listen to an interesting podcast that makes that case here.)  Or maybe it is the invasion of the popular New Atheism movement birthed through a culture of evolutionary theory mixed with a disdain for all things religious (often harkening back to hated experiences growing up in a church).  Or maybe it is just guys being boys who are attracted to the next shiny object:  the internet, video games...or football, spending all of their spare moments immersed in a world they can control.  But guys are leaving the church in droves...and they aren't coming back.

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The fallout of guys leaving the church has had a very heavy impact on the women of the church. 

I have watched year after year as girls and young women, who love the Lord and are passionate about Him, compromise their convictions and for the sake of relationship yoke themselves with unbelievers.  I've heard the justifications of such arrangements too.  "He treats me better than most of the Christian guys I know."  "He's so nice."  "I don't want to be alone."  "You'd love him and his sense of humor, responsibility, character...(or your own favorite adjective to convince someone that breaking the biblical command is justified)."

But I have seen the fallout of this shortsighted philosophy as these relationships become marriages (or living together arrangements) and children become involved.  What seemed like a good idea in the dating phase, becomes a nightmare in a relationship where the woman constantly worries about the conflict her relationship with Christ has on both her husband and her children.  The deeper her relationship with Christ becomes the more she frets over the salvation of her husband and the impact their divided family will have on their children in the most important area of life.  Living out 1 Cor. 7:10-16 is much harder than it looks, especially when the person has willfully put themselves in that position.  Many who find themselves in this place after many years of marriage admit they should have never done it because of the turmoil and pain it has caused them (often leading to divorce and all the extra baggage that comes with it).

But there may be a solution for women who want a husband who is faithful to Christ in the near future that hasn't been previously available before.  With the re-definition of marriage that seems to be sweeping the nation, it is only a matter of time before polygamy also becomes an acceptable form of marriage again.  Currently the debate concerning marriage is being framed around love and how it cannot be limited to be viewed in only one light.  However, once you open the door to one new understanding of the institution provided by this new understanding of love, then others are soon to follow.  It will be very easy to make a case that a woman should be able to choose to marry another man who already has a wife, if it is their conviction that they marry within the faithful (and all parties are willing).  For if love and marriage cannot have one strict definition, it most certainly cannot have just two.

Now to be sure, there are a lot of issues with polygamous relationships that have to be considered.  First, men within those relationships can never be an elder or deacon in the church (1 Tim. 3:1-13).  Issues concerning these families and relational problems that arise are sure to give many ministers fits, as reconciliation with spouses and the children born into such circumstances have an exponential set of relationships to properly keep track of.  There will be jealousy among wives and the size and type of family each one has (see Gen 16; 21:8-21, 1 Samuel 1:1-8).  There will be the temptation to treat the husband as a sex object only good for providing for the family and producing more offspring (Gen. 30:1-24).  Or the husband to treat marriage only as an arrangement to produce the most political peace and prosperity for his family, which can have the corrupting effect of turning away his heart from the God he professes to serve (1 Kings 11:1-8).  The husband, as well, may only see sex as a function of the body and not part of the committed relationship of marriage and decide to have not only polygamous relationships but polyamorous ones as well (these similar to concubines in the Bible...and they are happening in our culture here to see a Nightline story on this lifestyle, but don't if it will be a stumbling block to you).  Finally, the breathtaking problems it can lead to within the relationships of the children have to be read to be believed (Gen. 37; 2 Sam 13).

However, the one advantage of a polygamous relationship is that the husband that each of the women are married to can have a very strong relationship with the Lord, the most solid of all bases to build a foundation of faith within the family.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not an advocate of polygamous relationships, even though there is a biblical case to be made for their existence.  But their existence may be something the church in America has to deal with in the near future and may provide a type of imperfect solution for the woman who wants to serve the Lord and desires strongly to be married to a man with the same convictions.

The perfect solution would be for guys who profess to be Christians to start acting like men who live out their convictions.  They need to stop making sissified excuses of how the church hurt them or how they were bored or how it wasn't relevant to their lives.  They need to actually sit down and read the Bible instead of playing lip service to it and actually teach their wives and families to follow Christ (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21, Psalm 78:1-8).  Instead of complaining about how the church is, they should be leading the charge of who the church should be to reach the next generation for Christ.  They should stop leaving at the first sign of any resistance, whether it be church or marriage or fatherhood, and learn the blessing involved in persevering (James 1:19-25). 

If they would just do that, by truly putting Christ first in their marriage, their fatherhood and the practice of their faith in fellowship maybe the next generation of women won't have to double up on a faithful man just to find one.  Men who do this would find out very quickly that this is the type of man that a truly beautiful woman is dying to find (1 Peter 3:3-4).  And let me assure you, there are plenty of beautiful women longing for a Godly man.        

Of Bible Translations and Heresy

Maybe you have heard the news, maybe you haven't:  Eugune Peterson, the author of the Message Bible, has recently endorsed same sex marr...