Saturday, December 14, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
Being More Like Jesus
Mark Steyn’s and Michael Walsh’s posts below — gleefully and rightfully skewering the New York Times for its religious ignorance — remind me of a rather common liberal, secular critique of Christian conservatives. “If only you were more like Jesus,” they proclaim, “and less concerned with [fill in the hot-button social issue here], then you would reach more people.” I’ve mostly experienced this argument as a weapon wielded against young, idealistic Christians — often on college campuses — who are experiencing rejection and scorn for the first time in their lives.How often is it true, in any context that we see Christ as "simply the ideal man within our[sic] own frame of reference?" How often do we try to use Christ to validate ourselves rather than to change ourselves?
But here’s the catch: Those delivering the critique are as ignorant of Jesus as the New York Times. To the Biblically illiterate, Christ is simply the ideal man within their own frame of reference; it’s a short-hand way of saying “be more like a better version of me” or “be like the most compassionate person I can imagine” (however they define compassion).
On a theological level, this is why the doctrine of sin is so very important. Its absence is what reduces Christ to validator. On a practical level this is what so often prevents us from knowing a genuine relationship with Christ. Oh we try, we try so hard, but in the end we are looking for validation, not salvation and transformation.
I have been reflecting lately on what a truly odd duck I really am. Then I think about what a massively maladjusted individual I would be absent the grace of God. That is all the validation I need.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Manipulators seek their own best interests while pretending they seek yours. Your success threatens them.I have always hated manipulation in the church, and now I think I know why. It is certainly me distaste for manipulation that has made me so virulently object to the use of marketing techniques in the church. After all, what are marketing techniques if not manipulation? We are not interested in growing the church to make the church look successful - that's selfish. We are interested in growing the church for the sake of those that join!
Relationship based leaders seek your best interests. Your success invigorates them.
What more - if we need to manipulate people into the church, then what we are offering is something less than the full gospel. It seems to me that if we had the gospel right it would not require manipulation. Its truth and "utility" would be readily apparent.
Did Christ manipulate anyone? Does the simple command, "Come with me and I will make you fishers of men," sound manipulative to you? Whay can't we do that? Jesus promised we could. Is manipulation to God's glory?
falling short resorting to manipulation
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
COME! - This Way!
I want to say something in praise of evangelicalism today. Evangelicalism has played an important role in my spiritual formation, and I know from experience that it has done the same in the lives of many others.There it is, a point I have been trying to make here for a long time. Evangelicalism IS NOT church - it is simply evangelism. It is a function of the church, but it is not the church in its entirety.
The graph of my spiritual history is simple: from mainline Christianity to adolescent rebellion to spiritual awakening through evangelicalism to gradual dissatisfaction with the world of evangelicalism and back home to mainline Christianity.
I have met others who have followed a similar path. Just the other day my pastor told me about a young man who had grown up in the Lutheran church, left the church as a teenager, was “converted” in an evangelical church, then became “burned out” in that church environment, and one day stumbled back into a Lutheran congregation, where he is now settling in as an adult.
Evangelicalism is at its best when it gets the attention of prodigals, gets them moving, and points them toward home. Evangelicalism provides a way station where people weary of the world can stop in, find rest and refreshment, get some guidance, and then find their way home. Evangelicalism has a missional mentality and focus. It is good at attracting people, waking them up, and getting them back in touch with God. It is spiritual CPR. It’s a voice in the wilderness that gets people into the waters of Jordan to repent and believe.
If that is true then one of two things has to happen. Either Evangelical "churches" have to grow into full churches, or they have to be relegated tot he bin of parachurch from which they sprang. The problem is, that's not what people want. They want sorta kinda church. Church that offers salvation but does not radically affect their lives. As long as that is what people want, there are going to be people more than willing to give it.
So, how do we change the desire of people - how do we make them want more? I have two hints. The first is the AA concept of hitting bottom. Alcoholics don't improve until they come square face with the fact that they have a problem. We talk so little about sin anymore that people do not understand they have a problem. Yeah, I know they stay away from sin messages. That's how all this started. But sin messages will be heard if the other hint is in play.
They have to see that we have something better to offer. We have to live life in such a radically Christian fashion that sin is transparent. People, when confronted with sin must know that there is a path out of it, not a mere guilt-ridden wallowing in it. That's the real challenge.
evangelicalism parachurch radical
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
How Often The Meal?
“Throughout church history, Christians have celebrated the Lord’s Table in many different ways and with varying frequency,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals. “Right now, the trend among evangelicals is once a month, which seems to balance taking communion regularly while not replacing the central role of the sermon in most evangelical worship services.”All fair enough, but where is the discussion of sacrament, practice, and even habit formation? It is as if now that literacy is relatively widespread and people can consume scripture fore themselves, they do not need liturgy. But we do - badly.
Ron Hamilton, Conference Minister for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, said, “The communion service is always a special time. The annual Maundy Thursday communion service is one of the best of the year.”
With the exception of one leader whose church serves communion several times per week and another who is a member of The Salvation Army, a denomination that does not practice communion, the other options (every other month, quarterly and weekly) received equal shares of the remaining 30 percent, according to the survey.
One leader whose church practices weekly communion is David Neff, Editorial Vice President for Christianity Today. Neff emphasizes the link to the early church. “As early as the mid-second century, descriptions of Christian worship treat the Eucharist as the basic form of weekly worship. Recovering this has been one of the achievements of worship renewal in the second half of the 20th century,” he said.
Anderson said, “In practicing communion, evangelical Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For many, it is a special and reverent experience they share regularly with their Christian community. The Scripture does not address the specifics of how to celebrate the Lord’s Table, so there is considerable variety in how the practice is understood and expressed in evangelical churches.”
There is something about the liturgical that is deeper than mere understanding, or simply reminder. That which e repeat and do with out bodies becomes not just habit, but deeply ingrained in our make-up.
A a student of chemistry, that which I learned is school is readily divisible into to parts - that which I studied and that which I did in the lab. The stuff that I studied, but have not continued to use on a regular basis is long gone. That which I did in the lab is with me now some 30 years later, even if I never again have had to extract caffeine from tea leaves and make my own personal "no-doze."
The liturgical is a means of doing that which we must more than merely study. It is a form of "church lab." It is vital to our maturity.
Monday, December 09, 2013
Awwww, But I LIke Cute!
The time for cute is over.All I would add is that int eh rush to get "back to basics" of the gospel. Do not forget maturity. In truth much of Christian maturity is simply learning the same basic gospel lessons more deeply. For example, moving our confessional practices to deeper and more personal levels. But that fact notwithstanding part of the problem sensed here is simply that we preach the "good news" of salvation, perhaps even salvation lite, but we then take no one anywhere else.
That's the thought that crossed my mind and came out of my mouth during a recent breakout session with Lutheran colleagues from southern Ohio.
One member of our group shared the impact on him of some polling he'd read about done among people leaving Easter Sunday worship services. A high number of them, people who had presumably just heard the good news of Easter--that God the Son, Who had taken on human flesh and died on a cross, taking humanity's rightful punishment for sin, and then, on Easter, rose from the dead in order to give all who turn from sin and believe in Him everlasting life with God--had been proclaimed, sung about, and shouted, could not articulate what Easter was about.
Truth is, what my colleague shared did not surprise me, not because I think that the average worshiper on Easter Sunday is stupid.
The problem is that we who are called by God through the Church to preach and teach about Jesus routinely make the wrong assumption. We forget that the ground has shifted beneath us.
In North America and Europe, we live in a post-Christian culture. But we assume that most people who pass through the doors of our church buildings know the content of the Gospel--the good news--about Jesus and the new life He offers freely to those who believe in Him. Our job, we assume is to simply remind people of this gospel in compelling, entertaining, painless (cute) ways, being careful not to take up so much time that people are late for the Sunday brunches at local restaurants.
But cute isn't working any more.
approach. It seemed to me that this strange convergence in our thinking, born of prayer and study, had the same source: God the Holy Spirit was telling us to forget about cute and simply proclaim the Good News about Jesus, to assume nothing, to take nothing for granted.
To tell you the truth, this moment of desperation and of wrestling with why the Church is needed and how Christ is essential for every human being, is exhilarating and liberating. In the past few years, my preaching has changed. For most of my twenty-eight years as a pastor, my sermon preparation has, to some extent, been weighed down by two questions, the very asking of which, was limiting: How can I get their attention? How can I make it palatable?
Now though, the Holy Spirit seems to be guiding me and others who want to share the Gospel to ask a different question: What do people need to hear?
That very question liberates the pastor from being a marketer to become a preacher and teacher.
It also drives me to God's Word for direction and to God's Spirit for wisdom more than ever before.
We need to make mature Christians to make more mature Christians.
Christian basics maturity