“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bravery and Benazir Bhutto

I want to start this post by clearly stating that I am no political expert, and I do not advertise myself as such; however there are a few things I wanted to note about the recent tragic events in Pakistan, and the U.S.'s current political clime.

1. - Our Founding Fathers put together a pretty good system, which has enabled 'bloodless' transfer of power for over two centuries. That is pretty amazing considering how rare that is. Even when we have close calls, such as in 1960 and 2000, we are able to transfer power without massive riots in the street. Obviously, this says something about the society as a whole as well.

2. - After saying the above, I would like to say that, while this system has served us well, the people within the system are in drastic need of revamping. Look at Bhutto, a person willing to risk her life for what she believed. She took a position which she knew was unpopular to the more radical element in her society and stuck to it. Ultimately, as she knew it would, this cost her her life.

Now, look at the current state of our politics, the BIG 'issues' so far are:

1. - Did Hilary Clinton lie? (of course, so did they all)
2. - Did Barak Obama take drugs?
3. - Was there a (gasp) cross surreptitiously positioned in Mike Huckabee's Christmas message?
4. - Is Mitt Romney a cultist? (yes)

On and on it goes -- and do you notice anything? There is no a single issue of substance involved in any of the debates, attacks or discussions. Whichever way the polls turn, so too do our 'leaders'. What a contrast with Bhutto who stood FOR something, regardless of what the polls said, regardless of what the times dictated as far as regards her personal comfort.

Oh yes, the ads 'act' as though they are addressing issues, and again, it is the issue du jour -- i.e. Mitt Romney attacks everyone's position on illegal immigration, yet what is his plan? Who knows, you can't answer a complex question like that in a five minute sound bite on a so-called Presidential Debate (which are not only jokes, but actually misnamed, they are not debates, but a platform to test out the latest sound bite).

REAL leaders have REAL answers to REAL issues, and stick with those answers because they have been thought-out and tested against what makes sense, not what resonates with the most people. Because, my friends, quite frankly, we, the people, are as shallow as those we elect. Who would actually sit and listen to a true debate about the issues?

We watch the debates for the same reason many go to the NASCAR races -- to wait for that one spectacular crash.

We can learn much from Bhutto's life and death -- yes, she made mistakes, and was no saint, but she actually stood for something, and there were people who actually cared about that. How about this election year: can you and I get off of our duffs and actually elect someone with answers? Can we stop focusing on only the issues that the media and the politicos point us to, and actually start addressing the politicians and asking hard questions like:

Is this person a leader? Why?
Do they actually have a vision for this country? What is it?
Can they articulate their position on the issues in a way that is meaningful and not simply sensational?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Preach the Gospel?

This week I had several conversations that went like this:

(a) - "This is a great opportunity, (Christmas), to preach the gospel. We can reach people that we normally would not reach"


(b) - "Boy, our pastor really preached the gospel this weekend! I love Christmas sermons!"

Now you may see nothing wrong with this, but I believe this is the crux of the problem in the USA today. The gospel is NOT something that is preached with regularity, instead it has become the 'message' when the 'lost' come to church! Yet, in reality, what else should a pastor be preaching with regularity?

Now don't get me wrong -- I understand that sometimes you are preaching through a section of the Bible that may have various applications, but the gospel should be regular fare at your church and not just the 'holiday meals'.

How different was Paul's statement found in 1st Corinthians 2:1, 2 -- "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

He also makes this statement in Romans 1:16, 17 --- For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith...

Now, contrast this view of the gospel with the messages that were preached this year in the USA:

1. At least five huge churches preached on sex -- of course, couching it in the mindset that they are trying to show we are not prudes, just good, moral people.

2. There were three (that I found) that preached on how to live a fulfilled life by losing the fear and anxiety that holds you back -- they did not speak of the power of the gospel (yes, I listened to several of them), rather that we need to 'break free' from fear.

3. You have a major 'evangelical leader' who now teaches other religions how to be more successful and 'Purpose-Driven' -- This is a person who has created an empire out of non-gospel preaching.

No wonder that people are so pleased and vocal about their pastor's Christmas service; he FINALLY gets around to preaching the gospel. Sadly, this should not be a rare event, but THE event that gathers the church.

I did not link to any of the sermons because I do not care to give these people free publicity, many of them are well-known, and they all have their defenders and trolls, who have nothing better to do that troll the blogs looking for a mention of 'their' church. They then proceed to make it all about 'their' man, instead of addressing the truth that the church they attend has little regard for the power of the gospel.

Sad is the day when a congregant brags that their pastor 'really preached the gospel', as if it were a novel concept!

May God have mercy on us!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'Just' a Pastor?

I was talking with someone recently about our church and he asked me about my role. When I informed him that I was the pastor, he asked a few more questions, such as 'have you authored any books?' etc.

When he found out that I had not written any books, and that our church didn't use illustrations that were sensational (i.e. driving an expensive car on stage), he made this statement -- "Oh, so you are just a pastor?".

I answered in the affirmative, and at the time it did not affect me; actually I am used to that response, but then as I got to thinking about it, I was bothered more and more by this statement.

JUST a pastor??? This is where we are at in our country -- unless you have authored a best-selling book, or you have a church numbering in the thousands, you are a failure in the eyes of many, even within the Christian community. At some pastor gatherings that I have attended, the first question that is asked is "How big is your church?" and when you answer 45 - 50, you almost feel the pity coming from other pastors.

I feel bad for the majority of pastors who pastor a smaller church and have never authored a book. It is no longer respectable to proclaim God's Word from the pulpit, and love the flock that God has entrusted to us; now we must be grasping for the golden ring that contains our 15 minutes of fame. A pastor isn't complete unless he is 'somebody'. What a tragedy! There is no higher calling than to be entrusted with a portion of God's flock, no matter what size!

Our problem is not that we have too few pastors that are also authors, but that we have too few pastors that are pastors! We do not mentor young men coming out of seminary in the role of pastoring; far too many come straight out of seminary and feel that they MUST be a Senior Pastor. In truth, these men should be mentored for two or more years.

Also, during the mentoring period they should also work in the community, interacting with the world around them. This enables them to understand the world in which most of their flock lives 6 days per week.

They need to serve in various roles within the church, from janitor, to children's ministry, to visitation. These folks need to understand the entire scope of ministry. Far too often the role models for young men are people who are 'successful' in the eyes of the world, but lack any pastoral concern or care. My first pastor was a true pastor, you would not know his name, and he never wrote a book, but he led me to Christ and he served his flock faithfully, sacrificing for them and loving them.

In many churches the role of caring and loving the flock has been delegated to a committee of people, while the pastor works on programs that will grow the church. Sadly, the first and foremost role of the pastor -- that is, the teaching of the Word and prayer, is relegated to the shelf, and the second most important role -- caring for the flock, which is an extension of reading and studying the Word and engaging in prayer, is delegated to a committee, while the pastor works on growing his influence.

We desperately need more pastors, and less 'Church Growth experts', 'best-selling authors', and self-aggrandizing men who put their reputation before their role.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Doctrine, Doctrine, Where far art thou Doctrine?

So many people have written about this subject that I almost just dropped it. However, I feel inclined to make a comment as I have recently (again) had this subject brought to my attention.

One of the perks/curses of being a pastor is that everyone feels that it is necessary to send me links to other pastors who are doing 'well'. I am unsure of their reasoning; maybe it is because we are a smaller church and they are trying to give me some 'pointers' on church growth, or, quite possibly, they feel led to assist me in 'improving' my pulpit skills.

However, all of the links that I get, inevitably, look like this:

(1.) - The church is has some pithy, hip, name -- i.e. Oxygen, Mountaintop, etc. (Please note that if this is your church name, I actually made these up out of thin air -- I am trying to avoid giving any of these churches free publicity).

(2.) - The pastor has a blog in which he never writes anything of substance about the faith, his posts are usually an endless and narcissistic monologue of subjects, such as: "What I am doing right now", or "Why I think Haagen-Daz Ice Cream is Cool", or "Why I love XXXXX Jeans".

(3.) - EVERY ONE of these hip, cool, relevant guys has the EXACT same wardrobe and haircut -- they are mostly 20-somethings to 40-somethings trying to look like teen-somethings. They all dress in an untucked shirt, jeans/shorts, sandals, and wear glasses that David Crowder inspired. Their hair is cut short and stands on end, in what we used to call 'bed-head' style.

(4.) - Whenever these folks receive criticism that they are, to be kind, light in content, and heavy in relevance (as described by them, of course), they quickly and arrogantly point out that their church has grown from 25 to 1000 in one year. They are under the delusion that simple numerical growth somehow indicates spiritual health.

(5.) - These 'pastors' seem to be either; incredibly ignorant of, or openly disdainful of, any form of doctrinal statement. Funny thing is, their actions are making a doctrinal statement.

(6.) - After watching a number of their sermons, I can honestly say that these people say so little of value that their relevance (which is the Golden Calf whose feet they worship at), has the shelf-life of a bunch of bananas! They are relevant ONLY to people who do not actually want to hear of something that is of timeless relevance. These 'pastors' will be gone like winter wheat when people move to the next fad. (witness the Willow Creek model which is now coming apart).

(7.) - And finally, what do these great thinkers read? Well, almost all of them read each others books and blogs. Also included in their recommended reading list are a number of business, marketing and church strategy books; some even have Harry Potter in their recommended reading -- it should make you feel good, regardless of your opinion of Harry Potter, that your spiritual leader is reading mediocre juvenile fiction for his sustenance! What is almost universally missing is anything of substance, there is a complete dearth of books regarding our faith, no one reading any of the timeless Christian works that have sustained the church over hundreds and even thousands of years.

Let me just say a final thing -- to you who might fit this mold. I don't hate you, nor do I even dislike you. I don't even know you, but I will tell you that those who are called to pastor are called to a much-higher calling than being hip and cool. We are called to be God's spokesmen to the saints -- we are to be proclaiming the Word of God, not our own witty little writings that make us look good, or hip. The 'game' for pastors is not to grow a large church and proclaim numbers. NOTE: I have nothing against a large church, I would like to have a larger church myself one day, however that is not what we are to be consumed with, rather it is the proclamation of the Word of God, and He will bring the growth. At the end of the day, we are under-shepherds to our great Shepherd. He has entrusted us to watch over His flock; those whom He has purchased with His own precious blood -- and you know what...? This requires study and diligence and work. For all of you who say doctrine is not important let me simply remind you:

Romans 16:17, 18 -- I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

Ephesians 4:11 - 14 -- And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

1Timothy 6:3 - 5 -- If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

Titus 1:7 - 9 -- For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Are you, young man, one who lives a life that is godly? Or, do you revel in being a rebel, and a lightning rod for controversy? Do you not understand that your flock watches you, and by acting juvenile and worldly, you are, in fact, creating a church that looks just like you? We are called to be a City on a Hill, NOT just another option on a list of things to do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where is Your Treasure?

This weekend we came to the place in Matthew where Jesus speaks of laying up treasure (Matthew 6). I find this interesting, that during the season of Thanksgiving we came across a passage regarding fasting, and now during a time often marked by rampant consumerism, we come to this passage:

Matthew 6:19 - 34 -- Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

During this time of year I am often discouraged by the constant complaints of Christians who, (it seems to me), want to force EVERYONE to say "Merry Christmas". All we have to do is reflect on the last few years of nonsense by 'Christians' to boycott, Wal*Mart (Not that I disagree with boycotting Wal*Mart, but for entirely different reasons!), Target, or any other store that has offended their sensibilities!

These self-same Christians are often eager participants in the consumerist orgies that take place around our country every year in the last quarter. I assume these folks want someone to say "Merry Christmas" to them, so they will feel 'comfortable', and remember why they are standing in line for 12 hours to buy a new Wii.

I am often amazed at how Christians eagerly participate in the ritual shopping sprees, taking joy in them, and talking about them at church as if they were something to be proud of. People who would not come to a prayer meeting because it is too late, or too early, are found standing in line at Mervyns at 4am in order to pick up the latest and greatest junk that will be outdated by January. People who could not give any money at church last week to help feed some of the community's needy, now shell out $$$$$, going into credit card debt, in order to appease the children they have weaned on materialism.

Yes, this is a time of year when I really struggle with the Christian community -- it seems that they want their cake and eat it too -- "You will say Merry Christmas to me while I sate my materialistic soul on junk, junk, junk". Here are a few stats that I found to be interesting:

(1) U.S. Evangelical Assets: Somewhere between 2 - 6 trillion dollars in assets are in the hands of American evangelicals, not including the value of their primary homes.

(2) U.S. Evangelical Income: In 2000, American evangelicals collectively made $2.66 trillion in income.

(3) Worldwide Income: Worldwide, Christians collectively have personal income totaling $6.8 trillion a year.

(4) Decline in Giving: Church members gave $2.8 million less to their churches in 2004 than in 2003.

(5) Then and Now: Giving by North American churchgoers was higher during the Great Depression (3.3 percent of per capita income in 1933) than it was after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity (2.5 percent in 2004).

(6) Sunday Offerings: The average amount of money given by a full or confirmed member of a U.S. Christian church in 2004 was $691.93. This comes to an average of $13.31 per week.

(7) Tithing: 9% of American “born-again” adults tithed in 2004. This means that the vast majority of God’s people are not financially supporting his work.

(8) Already Enough Wealth: Eighty percent of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America—and the total represents way more than enough to fund the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

(9) Even a Little More Giving: There would have been an additional $164 billion available for the work of the church in 2004 had American church members given at least 10 percent of their incomes, instead of the 2.5 percent that was actually given.

You can find much more information at Generosity Giving where I gathered some of these statistics.

Now, you can rationalize about your shopping, as I can, but truth be told, we must ask ourselves a tough questions -- "Where are we storing our treasures up?"

Are we more concerned with building the Kingdom of God, or building a pool in our backyard? The world watches and waits...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

Well, it is that time again -- Hanukkah. And I just wanted to post some Hanukkah thoughts before I run off to work.

Jesus celebrated this holiday, and as I have posted in the past, it is recorded in John 10:22 - 30 -- At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

Many in today's society are asking this same question: "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" Jesus answers through the Word in the same way that He did then: "I told you and you do not believe".

It seems that the past few years we have seen a rise in interest in the 'real' Jesus, but in point of fact, it is not a new interest. The Pharisees were as Messiah-focused as the modern man is, probably more so. But, like the modern man, the Pharisees could not accept a Messiah who did not validate their lifestyle, but instead called people to sacrifice, obedience and a God-centeredness.

Now many would say that I am speaking of a legalistic lifestyle, but I am actually referring to what Jesus Himself said -- Matthew 10:37 - 39 -- Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew `16:24 - 26 -- Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Again, let me reiterate, I am not advocating a mendicant lifestyle in order to 'prove' that you are a follower of Jesus; rather I am saying that when we die to self and Christ lives within us, it will be our desire to live for Him, loving Him more than anyone else. This is not something that man can do in his own efforts and this is what has caused many heartaches throughout history. When the Spirit indwells you, there will be a NEW BIRTH, and that new child of God will behave (albeit imperfectly), in a new way.

Just this past week I picked up a special News and World Report magazine on Christianity; asking all of the timeworn questions -- "What of the other gospels?", "Who was the 'real' Jesus?" etc. And these secular groups want a Messiah that will fit into their idea of who He should be. Just like the Pharisees all those years ago on Solomon's portico, modern man stands before Christ and demands "Tell us plainly", yet when He does, we turn away and pick up stones to stone Him as did the people of His day.

Sadly, in today's world the shrillest voices in this discussion often come from within the 'church' -- so-called Christian leaders standing up and providing their perspective on who Messiah is. Now, these people do not use the Bible, rather they say -- "MY Messiah is one who is all inclusive", or "What Would Jesus Do?", implying that He really was an early Mahatma Gandhi, bringing love and peace to the entire world, never criticizing, only 'affirming'.

Today, when people ask Jesus who He is, they prefer to get their information about Him from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, rather than sacred Scripture -- because those folks have formed a Golden Calf that many want to bow down to. Like the Israelites, they may call this calf 'God', but in reality, they are sadly, and for some, eternally, mistaken, and yet, so many within the 'church' are right there, bowing before this idol made in OUR image.

How different is the Jesus of Scripture -- the one who spat out woes to the hypocritical religious leaders of His day, the one who cleansed the temple.

THIS Jesus said that He came to bring a sword -- that the message of the gospel would divide; today, He has been 'remolded' into a safe, cuddly, golden calf who never says a cross word to anyone, and whose love extends to every single creature on this Earth regardless of whether they reject Him or not. And even worse, the church is promoting this calf -- instead they should love and care enough about the lost to teach them who Jesus really was, and what the Gospel REALLY means!

I have referred to Talladega Nights more than once on this blog. That is because of the scene in which Ricky Bobby prays to a baby Jesus. When his wife upbraids him for doing this, he says, in prototypical American fashion, "You pray to the Jesus you want, I like the baby Jesus". Sadly, that is truer than many of us would like to admit.

We demand that a creche be installed in front of our government buildings, but we do not want the REAL Messiah to indwell in our hearts. Today we ask "Who are you Jesus, tell us plainly", but the answer is so offensive that we turn away!

Let us pray that this holiday season would be one when the real Messiah's light burns brghtly in the hearts of His people!