Saturday, May 31, 2008
The Golden Age
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Friday, May 30, 2008
How Do We Separate Church And State?
Separation of church and state does not equal separation of faith and state.That is a brilliant formulation.
Russ is arguing for religious influence in political thought, and I have spent these two years trying to keep that influence within proper boundaries. In Russ' formulation the distinctions run much deeper than they might appear at first reading. The problems I fought against, bias against Mitt Romney because he is Mormon, ended up centering on pure identity. Few people argued about what Romney believes, everybody seemed to understand that such was not legitimate discussion in American politics. It got down to tribalism - "Romney is not one of us." That tribalism, whether defined by denomination, or simple conventionalism, is what the constitution prohibits.
"Faith" on the other hand is not a label or group, it is thought and spiritual force that shapes an individual. We are free to hold, defend, and vote based upon our stances on issues, based on how faith has shaped us.
Which to my mind raises some interesting questions about how effective we really are in the church today. We seem to have recruited a bunch of people claiming Christian identity, in polls they certainly self-identify. But how many people have discovered genuine faith?
Well, when they cling to identity in a fashion like we saw in the Republican primary, one must conclude not very well. When people cannot distinguish their religious identity from their stances on political issues the church is not about transformative faith.
I have said all along that my goals at Article VI blog were to help Evangelicals, not Mitt Romney. When I think about it, that is on more than a political level - it is on a missional one as well.
It looks increasingly like all we have built in the last few years is a voting bloc, not a community of faith.
Not a happy development in my book.
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Because It Is Just Too Good To Pass Up!
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Thursday, May 29, 2008
Gee, This Sounds Familiar
What I don’t love is the 501c3 tax-exempt institution we incorrectly refer to as “the church.” For decades we’ve heard the old adage, “the church isn’t a building, it’s the people.” We’ve come to recognize that the brick and mortar structure isn’t the church, but somehow we haven’t had the same epiphany about the intangible structures of the institution. In many peoples’ imaginations the church remains a bundle of programs, committees, policies, teams, ministries, initiatives, budgets, and events. Most people speak of “the church” the same way they refer to “the government”—it’s a hierarchy of leaders managing an organization that they engage but remain apart from.From the second:
I am not anti-institution. I am not one of those rabid fluid-organic-anti-linear-pomo-loosy goosey-anti-establishment church people. I believe structure is necessary. Structure is good and even God-ordained. We see organization and structure from the very foundation of the church in Acts. But these structures always existed to serve God’s people in the fulfillment of their mission. Today, it seems like God’s people exist to serve the institution in the fulfillment of its mission (which is usually to become a bigger institution). Most of the curricula available to pastors on spiritual gifts and service focus on getting people to serve within their institution. Rarely does a church recruit, equip, and release saints to serve the mission outside its own immediate structure.
But what we often fail to see is that the Spirit was not unleashed in the leader’s life because he or she had the right values or employed the right strategy. The “fire of God,” as Dallas Willard calls it, was in their soul because of their intense love of Jesus Christ. Rather than focusing on reproducing a leader’s methodology by constructing an institution, we ought to focus on reproducing his or her devotion to God—but that is a far more challenging task. As Willard writes, “One cannot write a recipe for this, for it is a highly personal matter, permitting of much individual variation and freedom. It also is dependent upon grace—that is, upon God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own.”This is so well done that I really is little to add to it. I recommend you read it and that you ponder it - deeply. There is one small bone I want to pick, however.
This is what highly institutional consumer Christianity fails to grasp. It reduces ministry to a predictable machine where the right input results in the desired output, and then invites religious consumers to engage the test-engineered institution for their spiritual nourishment. It is also the assumption behind a good number of the ministry books, conferences, and resources we produce every year. But I don’t believe the Spirit of God is laying dormant waiting for the institutional church to compose the right BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) so he can be unleashed the way a pagan god is conjured by an incantation. God is a person, not a force. And his Spirit does not empower programs or inhabit institutions but people who were created in God’s image to be the vessels of his glory.
Jethani presents a model in the second post where good and excellent ministry arise from a good an excellent leader, and I agree that such often happens. But a caution and an addition. For the caution if one abandons the institutionalization model he presents, what often results is near deification of the leader. An idolatry of the individual, as opposed to the institution. So warned, this should be easily avoidable.
The addition, and I think the ideal; however, is that such good an excellent ministry can arise not from the blessing of an individual, but from the blessings of a group. I have experienced this but once in my life, but it is, I believe, true church. Like with an individual leader, it is temporary it ends. It can not be bottled or institutionalized.
What I am talking about is when the Holy Spirit moves in a group in such a way that ministry seems spontaneous. This is not "anti-institution." I have had many discussion where people have attempted to tell me that the accouterments (boards, by-laws, etc.) of institution stand in the way of such spontaneity, but to the contrary, the Holy Spirit simple puts them into perspective, and people interact with them with joy and enthusiasm.
Which brings us back to Jethani's point that this stuff cannot be bottled. Whether in a leader, or a group, this stuff happens because the people are open to the workings of the Holy Spirit, and whatever they do, they approach as people transformed by their faith, interested in doing God's work.
The real problem that underlies all of this is that it is easy and mechanical to operate an institution - put near impossible to change a person. But changing people is what we are called to do. The great thing is, we do not have to produce the change. All we have to do is get out of God's way.
The best place to start is by allowing God to change you. Have you?
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Leadership and management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.” When I read that recently, I thought that this statement could be very true in today’s American church. Here’s my theory: Could it be that while most churches are ‘doing things right, a smaller group of churches are ‘doing the right things’?and then wonders if the 10% of growing churches are "leaders" and the 90% stagnant or dying churches are "managers."
Look, no one can deny the church in this country has a big problem, but I think this is entirely too simplistic. Christ analogized the church to a grapevine. In the life cycle of most perennial plants a die-back is a part of healthy growth. We know that fire helps aid the general health of a forest, while unchecked growth creates a conflagration when it does burn from which the forest may not recover.
Ours is a confessing, humble, broken church, our strength, not unlike the examples I just cited, flows not from the apparent growth cycle, but from our response to the die-back or fire periods. Our best is found not in our "success" - for we have none - any success we enjoy comes from the grace of God. Grace which we access on our knees in confession.
The success of our Lord's ministry began with His death and ended with His resurrection. I am not so keen to write the story of church success in growth.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008
On Being Ticked Off
But anger isn't always bad. This may come as a surprise to some people, Christian as well as non-Christian.Mark then goes on to describe two circumstances of just anger
If you are a Christian, you may have had the experience of becoming angry with a family member or co-worker and then hearing them indignantly say, "And you call yourself a Christian?"
The Christian may feel ashamed, thinking that they've given a bad witness of their faith because they lost their cool.
But they may have no reason for shame. An interesting passage in the New Testament tells us, "Be angry but do not sin." The very phrasing of that admonition should tell us that there's nothing inherently wrong or sinful about getting angry. It's possible to be angry without engaging in sin.
- upon seeing injustice
- upon being treated inconsiderately
As Mark so rightly points out, the problem is not the anger, but what we do with it.
I have been told my whole life that I have "an anger problem." I am only recently discovering that some of my anger has been justified, and that holding and bottling that anger is not merely destructive to justice, but the suppression of just anger can be personally damaging. Just anger is often God's pointer to a situation that needs correction.
I think much of the nonsense that currently floats around that anger is somehow unChristian is a sub-conscious control mechanism that the professional Christians of the world arrives at. Think about it. If anger is indeed a pointer to injustice, and we all know the church is as guilty of injustice as anybody or anything else, what better way to eliminate the pointer than to delegitimize it?
What is truly sad is that in so doing, the church has robbed itself of a power that can be used to genuinely change the world for the better. What was the Martin Luther King led civil rights movement if not a justly channeled expression of the deep-seated anger born of segregation?
The question is not about anger, but about WHY anger. If someone is angry with you, you need to ask why. Many times we have wronged those that are angry at us, perhaps unintentionally, but wronged nonetheless. The church needs to learn to listen to anger. There is much to be learned from it.
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Monday, May 26, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Jacques Saurin, the famous French Protestant preacher of the seventeenth century, was born at Nismes in 1677. He studied at
PAUL BEFORE FELIX AND DRUSILLA
And before certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith of Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. - Acts 24:24, 25.
My brethren, though the kingdoms of the righteous be not of this world, they present, however, amidst their meanness, marks of dignity and power. They resemble Jesus Christ. He humbled Himself so far as to take the form of a servant, but frequently exercised the rights of a sovereign. From the abyss of humiliation to which He condescended, emanations of the Godhead were seen to proceed. Lord of nature, He commanded the winds and seas. He bade the storm and tempest subside. He restored health to the sick, and life to the dead. He imposed silence on the rabbis; He embarrassed Pilate on the throne; and disposed of
We might illustrate this truth by numerous instances. Let us attend to that in our text. There we shall discover that association of humility and grandeur, of reproach and glory, which constitutes the condition of the faithful while on earth. Behold
We find here three considerations which claim our attention: An enlightened preacher, who discovers a very peculiar discernment in the selection of his subject; a conscience appalled and confounded on the recollection of its crimes and of that awful judgment where they must be weighed, a sinner alarmed, but not converted; a sinner who desires to be saved, but delays his conversion: a ease, alas! of but too common occurrence.
You perceive already, my brethren, the subject of this discourse: first, that
Paul preached before Felix and Drusilla “on righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” This is the first subject of discussion. Before, however, we proceed further with our remarks, we must first sketch the character of this Felix and this Drusilla, which will serve as a basis to the first proposition.
After the scepter was departed from
Josephus recited an instance of his voluptuousness. It is his marriage with Drusilla. She was a Jewess, as is remarked in our text. King Azizus, her former husband, was a heathen; and in order to gain her affections, he had conformed to the most ‘rigorous ceremonies of Judaism. Felix saw her, and became enamored of her beauty. He conceived for her a violent passion; and in defiance of the sacred ties which had united her to her husband, he resolved to become master of her person. His addresses were received. Drusilla violated her former engagements, and chose rather to contract with Felix an illegitimate marriage than to adhere to the chaste ties which united her to Azizus. Felix the Roman, Felix the procurator of
Here is, my brethren, an admirable text; but a text selected with discretion. Fully to comprehend it, recollect the character we have given of Felix. He was covetous, luxurious, and governor of
But who can here supply the brevity of the historian, and report the whole of what the apostle said to Felix on these important points? It seems to me that I hear him enforcing those important truths be has left us in his works, and placing’ in the fullest’ luster those divine maxims interspersed in our’ Scriptures. “He reasoned of righteousness.” There he maintained the right of the widow and the orphan. There he demonstrated that kings and magistrates are established to maintain the rights of the people, and not to indulge their own caprice; that the design of the supreme authority is to make the whole happy by the vigilance of one, and not to gratify one at the expense of all; that it is meanness of mind to oppress the wretched, who have no defense but cries and tears; and that nothing is so unworthy of an enlightened man as that ferocity with which some are inspired by dignity, and which obstructs their respect for human nature, when undisguised by worldly pomp; that nothing is so noble as goodness and grandeur, associated in the same character; that this is the highest felicity; that in some sort it transforms the soul into the image of God; who, from the high abodes of ‘majesty in which He dwells, surrounded with angels and cherubim, deigns to look down on this mean world which we inhabit, and “Leaves not Himself without witness, doing good to all.”
“He reasoned of temperance.” There he would paint the licentious effects of voluptuousness. There he would demonstrate how opposite is this propensity to the spirit of the gospel; which everywhere enjoins retirement, mortification, and self-denial. He would show how it degrades the finest characters who have suffered it to predominate. Intemperance renders the mind incapable of reflection. It debases the courage. It debilitates the mind. It softens the soul. He would demonstrate the meanness of a man called to preside over a great people, who exposes his foibles to public view; not having resolution to conceal, much less to vanquish them. With Drusilla, he would make human motives supply the defects of divine; with Felix, he would make divine motives supply the defects of human. He would make this shameless woman feel that nothing on earth is more odious than a woman destitute of honor, that modesty is an attribute of the sex; that an attachment, uncemented by virtue, can not long subsist; that those who receive illicit favors are the first, according to the fine remark of a sacred historian, to detest the indulgence: “The hatred wherewith ‘Ammon, the son of David,’ hated his sister, after the gratification of his brutal passion, was greater than the love wherewith be had loved her” (II Sam. xiii., 15). He would make Felix perceive that, however the depravity of the age might seem to tolerate a criminal intercourse with persons of the other sex, with God, who has called us all to equal purity, the crime was not less heinous.
“He reasoned,” in short, “of judgment to come.” And here he would magnify his ministry. When our discourses are regarded as connected only with the present period, their force, I grant, is of no avail. We speak for a Master who has left us clothed with infirmities, which discover no illustrious marks of Him by whom we are sent. We have only our voice, only our exhortations, only our entreaties. Nature is not averted at our pleasure. The visitations of Heaven do not descend at our command to punish your indolence and revolts: that power was very limited, even to the apostle. The idea of a future state, the solemnities of a general judgment, supply our weakness, and
But not to be precipitate in commending the apostle’s preaching. Its encomiums will best appear by attending to its effects on the mind of Felix.
What a surprising scene, my brethren, is here presented to your view. The governor trembled, and the captive spoke without dismay. The captive made the governor tremble. The governor shuddered in the presence of the captive. It would not be surprising, brethren, if we should make an impression on your hearts (and we shall do so, indeed, if our ministry is not, as usual, a sound of empty words); it would not be surprising if we should make some impression on the hearts of our hearers. This sanctuary, these solemnities, these groans, this silence, these arguments, these efforts,—all aid our ministry, and unite to convince and persuade you. But here is an orator destitute of these extraneous aids: behold him without any ornament but the truth be preached. What do I say? that he was destitute of extraneous aids? See him in a situation quite the reverse - a captive, loaded with irons, standing before his judge. Yet he made Felix tremble. Felix trembled! Whence proceeded this fear, and this confusion? Nothing is more worthy of your inquiry. Here we must stop for a moment: follow us while we trace this fcar to its source. We shall consider the character of Felix under different, views; as a heathen, imperfectly acquainted with a future judgment, and the life to come; as a prince, or governor, accustomed to see every one humble at his feet; as an avaricious magistrate, loaded with extortions and crimes; in short, as a voluptuous man, who has never restricted the gratification of his senses. These are so many reasons of Felix’s fears.
First, we shall consider Felix as a heathen, imperfectly acquainted with a future judgment and the life to come: I say, imperfectly acquainted, and not as wholly ignorant, the heathens having the “work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). The force of habit had corrupted nature, but had not effaced its laws. They acknowledged a judgment to come, but their notions were confused concerning its nature.
Such were the principles of Felix, or rather such were the imperfections of his principles, when he heard this discourse of
This we are incapable adequately of comprehending. We must surmount the insensibility acquired by custom. It is but too true that our hearts - instead of being impressed by these truths, in proportion to their discussion - become more obdurate. We hear them without alarm, having so frequently beard them before. But if, like Felix, we had been brought up in the darkness of paganism, and if another Paul bad come and opened our eyes, and unveiled those sacred terrors, how exceedingly should we have feared! This was the case with Felix. He perceived thebandage which conceals the sight of futurity drop in a moment. He heard
Amazing effects, my brethren, of conscience! Evident argument of the vanity of those gods whom idolatry adorns after it has given them form! Jupiter and Mercury, it is true, had their altars in the temples of the heathens; but the God of heaven and earth has His tribunal in the heart: and, while idolatry presents its incense to sacrilegious and incestuous deities, the God of heaven and earth reveals His terrors to the conscience, and there loudly condemns both incest and sacrilege.
Secondly, consider Felix as a prince; and you will find in this second office a second cause of his fear. When we perceive the great men of the earth devoid of every principle of religion, and even ridiculing those very truths which are the objects of our faith, we feel that faith to waver. They excite a certain suspicion in the mind that our sentiments are only prejudices, which have become rooted in man, brought up in the obscurity of humble life. Here is the apology of religion. The Caligulas, the Neros, those potentates of the universe, have trembled in their turn as well as the meanest of their subjects. This independence of mind, so conspicuous among libertines, is consequently an art, - not of disengaging themselves from prejudices, but of shutting their eyes against the light, and of extinguishing the purest sentiments of the heart. Felix, educated in a court fraught with the maxims of the great instantly ridicules the apostle’s preaching.
See then Felix in one moment ‘deprived of his tribunal. The judge became a party. He saw himself rich and in need of nothing; and yet he was “blind, and naked, and poor.” He heard a voice from the God of the whole earth, saying unto him, “Thou profane and wicked prince, remove the diadem and take off the crown. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more” (Ezekiel 21:25-27). “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and tho thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord” (Obadiah, 4). Neither the dignity of governor, nor the favor of Caesar, nor all the glory of empire shall deliver thee out of My hand.
Thirdly, I restrict myself, my brethren, as much as possible in order to execute without exceeding my limits the plan I have conceived; and proceed to consider Felix as an avaricious man: to find in this disposition a further cause of his fear. Felix was avaricious, and
This unhappy propensity renders us insensible of our neighbor’s necessities. It magnifies the estimate of our wants; it diminishes the wants of others. It persuades us that we have need of all, that others have need of nothing. Felix began to perceive the iniquity of this passion, and to feel that he was guilty of double idolatry: idolatry in morality, idolatry in religion; idolatry in having offered incense to gods, who were not the makers of heaven and earth; idolatry in having offered incense to Mammon. For the Scriptures teach, and experience confirms, that “covetousness is idolatry.” The covetous man is not a worshiper of the true God. Gold and silver are the divinities he adores. His heart is with his treasure. Here then is the portrait of Felix: a portrait drawn by
Fourthly, consider Felix as a voluptuous man. Here is the final cause of his fear. Without repeating all we have said on the depravity of this passion, let one remark suffice, that, if the torments of hell are terrible at all, they must especially be so to the voluptuous. The voluptuous man never restricts his sensual gratification; his soul dies on the slightest approach of pain. What a terrific impression must not the thought of judgment make on such a character. Shall I, accustomed to indulgence and pleasure, become a prey to the worm that dieth not and fuel to the fire which is not quenched? Shall I, who avoid pain with so much caution, be condemned to eternal torments? Shall I have neither delicious meats nor voluptuous delights? This body, my idol, which I habituate to so much delicacy, shall it be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever “I” And this effeminate habit I have of refining on pleasure, will it render me only the more sensible of my destruction and anguish?
Such are the traits of Felix’s character; such are the causes of Felix’s fear. Happy, if his fear had produced that “godly sorrow, and that repentance unto salvation not to be repented of.” Happy if the fear of hell had induced him to avoid its torments. But, ah no! he feared, and yet persisted in the causes of his fear. He trembled, yet said to
How preposterous, my brethren, is the sinner! What absurdities does he cherish in his heart! For, in short, had the doctrines St. Paul preached to Felix been the productions of his brain - had the thought of a future judgment been a chimera, whence proceeded the fears of Felix? Why was he so weak as to admit this panic of terror? If, on the contrary, Paul had truth and argument on his side, why did Felix send him away? Such are the contradictions of the sinner. He wishes; he revolts; he denies; he grants; he trembles; and says, “Go thy way for this time.” Speak to him concerning the truths of religion, open hell to his view, and you. will see him affected, devout, and appalled:follow him in life, and you will find that these truths have no influence whatever on his conduct.
But are we not mistaken concerning Felix? Did not the speech of
It pains me, I confess, my brethren, in entering on this head of my discourse, that I should exhibit to you in the person of Felix the portrait of whom? Of wicked men? Alas! of nearly the whole of this assembly; most of whom seem to us living in negligence and vice, running with the children of this world “to the same excess of riot.” One would suppose that they had already made their choice, having embraced one or the other of these notions: either that religion is a phantom, or that, all things considered, it is better to endure the torments of hell than to be restricted to the practice of virtue. Oh no! that is not their notion. Ask the worse among them. Ask whether they have renounced their salvation. You will not find an individual who will say that he has renounced it. Ask them again whether they think it attainable by following this way of life. They will answer, No. Ask them afterward how they reconcile things so opposite as their life and their hopes. They will answer that they are resolved to reform, and by and by they will enter on the work. They will say, as Felix said to
I will reform at a future period. But who has told me that God at a future period will accompany His word with the powerful aids of grace? While Paul may plant and Apollos may water, is it not God who gives the increase? How then can I flatter myself that the Holy Spirit will continue to knock at the door of my heart after I shall have so frequently obstructed His admission?
I ‘will reform in future. But who has told me that I shall ever desire to be converted? Do not habits become confirmed in proportion as they are indulged? And is not an inveterate evil very difficult to cure? If I can not bear the excision of a slight gangrene, how shall I sustain the operation when the wound is deep?
I will reform in future! But who has told me that I shall live to a future period? Does not death advance every moment with gigantic strides? Does he not assail the prince in his palace and the peasant in his cottage? Does he not send before him monitors and messengers: acute pains, which wholly absorb the soul; deliriums, which render reason of no avail; deadly stupors, which benumb the brightest and most piercing geniuses? And what is still more awful, does lie not daily come without either warning or messenger? Does He not snatch away this man without allowing him time to be acquainted with the essentials of religion; and that man, without the restitution of riches ill acquired; and the other, before he is reconciled to his enemy?
Instead of saying “Go thy way for this time” we should say, Stay for this time. Stay, while the Holy Spirit is knocking at the door of my heart; stay, while my conscience is alarmed; stay, while I yet live; “while it is called to-day.” The arguments’ confounded my conscience: no matter. “Thy hand is heavy upon me”: no matter still.
Cut, strike, consume; provided it procure my salvation.
But, however criminal this delay may be, we seem desirous to excuse it. “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” It was Felix’s business then which induced him to put off the apostle. Unhappy business! Awful occupation! It seems an enviable situation, my brethren, to be placed at the head of a province; to speak in the language of majesty; to decide on the fortunes of a numerous people; and in all cases to be the ultimate judge. But those situations, so happy and so dazzling in appearance, are in the main dangerous to the conscience. Those innumerable concerns, this noise and bustle, entirely dissipate ‘the soul. While so much engaged on earth, we can not be mindful of heaven. When we have no leisure we say to
Happy he who, amid the tumult of the most active life, has hours consecrated to reflection, to the examination of his conscience, and to insure the “one thing needful.” Or, rather, happy he who, in the repose of the middle classes of society - places between indigence and affluence, far from the courts of the great, having neither poverty nor riches according to Agur‘s wish - can in retirement and quietness see life sweetly glide away, and make salvation, if not the sole, yet his principal concern.
Felix not only preferred his business to his salvation, but he mentions it with evasive disdain. “When I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” “When I have a convenient season!” Might we not thence infer that the truths discussed by
Yes, Christians, this is the only moment on which we can reckon. It is, perhaps, the only acceptable time. It is, perhaps, the last day of our visitation. Let us improve a period so precious. Let us no longer say by and by - at another time; but let us say today - this moment - even now. Let the pastor say: I have been insipid in my sermons, and remiss in my conduct; having been more solicitous, during the exercise of my ministry, to advance my family than to build up the Lord’s house, I will preach hereafter with fervor and zeal. I will be vigilant, sober, rigorous, and disinterested. Let the miser say: I have riches ill acquired. I will purge my house of illicit wealth. I will overturn the altar of Mammon and erect another to the supreme Jehovah. Let the prodigal say: I will extinguish the unhappy fires by which I am consumed and kindle in my bosom the flame of divine love. Ah, unhappy passions, which war against my soul; sordid attachments; irregular propensities; emotions of concupiscence; law in the members - I will know you no more. I will make with you an eternal divorce, I will from this moment open my heart to the eternal Wisdom, who condescends to ask it.
If we are in this happy disposition, if we thus become regenerate, we shall enjoy from this moment foretastes of the glory which God has pw pared. From this moment the truths of religion, so far from casting discouragement and terror on the soul, shall heighten its consolation and joy; from this moment heaven shall open to this audience, paradise shall descend into your hearts, and the Holy Spirit shall come and dwell there. He will bring that peace, and those joys, which pass all understanding.