Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Reformation!

October 31st, for most people, is a celebration of Halloween, but not for me. My wife and I choose to not really celebrate Halloween. As a matter of fact, in protest, we put out our Nativity in October.

October 31st, however, does have great significance for the Christian faith. It was on this date in 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenburg and ignited the protestant reformation. Many would argue that Luther's intention was to reform the Catholic church and not begin the protestant movement. It seems that Luther had a desire to move through the proper ranks of the established church, however, the advent of the printing press allowed for many hundreds of copies to be made and for Luther's 95 Theses to be widely published. God has since moved in a mighty way. Below, I have pasted a link to Luther's original comlaints...enjoy, and celebrate God's faithfulness through his Church that he has sustained for this many years.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Credit Card Anyone?

I know, most of you probably know this already, but I'm gonna throw it out there anyway. It is pretty common knowledge that people are likely to spend more money when swiping plastic than when paying with paper money. But, do you know how much more our plastic swipint causes us to spend? By at least two studies (one of those was a simple study by a couple), using credit cards instead of paying with the real thing causes people to spend 33%-34% more money. WOW, thats 1/3.

Next time you get ready to swipe that plastic, think about this.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Participation vs. Membership

Continuing on the Willow Creek trend this morning, let's consider a little story. When I was in college, many of my friends were members of a certain fraternity. All in all I had five different roommates who were members of this one frat. Although I was never a member of the fraternity, they extended the opportunity to me to become a "social affiliate." Basically, that meant I would have been able to attend all fraternity parties, social events, etc... I would not, however, be able to participate in the most important aspect of a fraternity and that is the community and relationship building that comes through their personal meetings. I would have no responsibility to the fraternity and they would have no responsibility to me. I could go hang out all day long, but there was zero commitment level expected or required.

Now, applying the same principal to the local church. If we focus all of our attention on participation and not on covenant membership, what have we really accomplished? Essentially we will have created social affiliates within the church. "We'd love for you to come hang out, but we do not need your commitment and we are not committed to you." This is absolutely not the biblical model 0f the church. According to the Bible, we have responsibilities to one-another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am responsible to help you to become more mature in your faith, and you are responsible for the same things with me.

Church involvement does not equal mature Christians, but you can bet that Christians mature in their faith will be totally comitted to the church.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines Still Work...and Are Needed

Willow Creek Church is, and has been, one of the most progressive churches in America for the past thirty years. However, founding pastor Bill Hybels now says there are things that he would have done differently. Specifically, Hybels suggests that involvement is not the gauge of Spiritual maturity.

Here's the main idea from Hybels:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

You can read more here.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

For Your Consideration

Joel Osteen has written a new book that is bound to be a best-seller. I believe he received a $15 million advance on the book. He also pastors the largest church in america, or does he? The questions surrounding Osteen are endless, is he a pastor or a motivational speaker? Denny Burk has written a thorough review of Osteen's interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday night. You can read Burk's Review here:

I found the most intriguing part of Burk's comments to be the quotes taken from the 60 Minutes interview. I challenge you to find the gospel in the quotes below, and then, if you haven't already, read Burk's review. I promise it is worth your time.

Inteviewer: “[In your new book, you write that] to become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that.”

Osteen: “That’s just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I’m called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, ‘Here’s a book that going to explain the scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting.”

We must be dilligent in our study, practice, and teaching of God's Word. Above all else, a pastor must be a person that is "going to explain the scriptures to you."

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Friday, October 12, 2007

From a Dying Man to Dying Men -- Recovering a Bold Vision for Biblical Preaching

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And how will they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14

Is preaching still central to Christian worship? This question is asked again and again as contemporary evangelicalism is observed. How can this be up for question?
In some circles, preaching has fallen on hard time. An open debate is now being waged over the character and centrality of preaching in the church. At stake is nothing less than the integrity of Christian worship and proclamation.

How did this happen? Given the central place of preaching in the New Testament church, it would seem that the priority of biblical preaching should be uncontested. After all, as John A. Broadus--one of Southern Seminary's founding faculty--famously remarked, "Preaching is characteristic of Christianity. No other religion has made the regular and frequent assembling of groups of people, to hear religious instruction and exhortation, an integral part of Christian worship."

Yet, numerous influential voices within evangelicalism suggest that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations--messages which avoid preaching a biblical text, and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth.

A subtle shift visible at the onset of the twentieth century has become a great divide as the century ends. The shift from expository preaching to more topical and human-centered approaches has grown into a debate over the place of Scripture in preaching, and the nature of preaching itself.

Two famous statements about preaching illustrate this growing divide. Reflecting poetically on the urgency and centrality of preaching, the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once remarked, "I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men." With vivid expression and a sense of gospel gravity, Baxter understood that preaching is literally a life or death affair. Eternity hangs in the balance as the preacher proclaims the Word.

Contrast that statement to the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) preacher of this century's early decades. Fosdick, pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, provides an instructive contrast to the venerable Baxter. "Preaching," he explained, "is personal counseling on a group basis."

These two statements about preaching reveal the contours of the contemporary debate. For Baxter, the promise of heaven and the horrors of hell frame the preacher's consuming burden. For Fosdick, the preacher is a kindly counselor offering helpful advice and encouragement.
The current debate over preaching is most commonly explained as a argument about the focus and shape of the sermon. Should the preacher seek to preach a biblical text through an expository sermon? Or, should the preacher direct the sermon to the "felt needs" and perceived concerns of the hearers?

Clearly, many evangelicals now favor the second approach. Urged on by devotees of "needs-based preaching," many evangelicals have abandoned the text without recognizing that they have done so. These preachers may eventually get to the text in the course of the sermon, but the text does not set the agenda or establish the shape of the message.

Focusing on so-called "perceived needs" and allowing these needs to set the preaching agenda inevitably leads to a loss of biblical authority and biblical content in the sermon. Yet, this pattern is increasingly the norm in many evangelical pulpits. Fosdick must be smiling from the grave.
Earlier evangelicals recognized Fosdick's approach as a rejection of biblical preaching. An out-of-the-closet theological liberal, Fosdick paraded his rejection of biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility--and rejected other doctrines central to the Christian faith. Enamored with trends in psychological theory, Fosdick became liberal Protestantism's happy pulpit therapist. The goal of his preaching was well captured by the title of one of his many books, On Being a Real Person.
Shockingly, this is now the approach evident in many evangelical pulpits. The sacred desk has become an advice center and the pew has become the therapist's couch. Psychological and practical concerns have displaced theological exegesis and the preacher directs his sermon to the congregation's perceived needs.

The problem is, of course, that the sinner does not know what his most urgent need is. She is blind to her need for redemption and reconciliation with God, and focuses on potentially real but temporal needs such as personal fulfillment, financial security, family peace, and career advancement. Too many sermons settle for answering these expressed needs and concerns, and fail to proclaim the Word of Truth.

Without doubt, few preachers following this popular trend intend to depart from the Bible. But under the guise of an intention to reach modern secular men and women "where they are," the sermon has been transformed into a success seminar. Some verses of Scripture may be added to the mix, but for a sermon to be genuinely biblical, the text must set the agenda as the foundation of the message--not as an authority cited for spiritual footnoting.

Charles Spurgeon confronted the very same pattern of wavering pulpits in his own day. Some of the most fashionable and well-attended London churches featured pulpiteers who were the precursors to modern needs-based preachers. Spurgeon--who managed to draw a few hearers despite his insistence on biblical preaching--confessed that "The true ambassador for Christ feels that he himself stands before God and has to deal with souls in God's stead as God's servant, and stands in a solemn place--a place in which unfaithfulness is inhumanity to man as well as treason to God."

Spurgeon and Baxter understood the dangerous mandate of the preacher, and were therefore driven to the Bible as their only authority and message. They left their pulpits trembling with urgent concern for the souls of their hearers and fully aware of their accountability to God for preaching His Word, and His Word alone. Their sermons were measured by power; Fosdick's by popularity.

The current debate over preaching may well shake congregations, denominations, and the evangelical movement. But know this: The recovery and renewal of the church in this generation will come only when from pulpit to pulpit the herald preaches as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's Not That Hard

I've had several people come to me lately and tell me, "you make it easy to understand your sermons." Well, I think that is primarily because I have to be certain that I can understand them before I preach them:).

But, you know, it is important that we make our faith understandable. Jesus spoke in such a way that people understood what he was talking about. Paul did the same thing. As Christians, we've got to be sure to speak in such a way that others know what we are talking about. There's no reason to make Christianity harder than it is...the whole concept of dying to self is difficult enough without talking about soteriology and eschatology.

I don't have to sound smart to be biblical, and neither do you. Throw away some of your church words and use Christ's words. You might be amazed when people look at you and say, "wow, you make it easy to understand the Bible."

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Does God Hear Our Prayers?

I am aroused from a great book tonight to post in response to the anonymous comment left concerning my post from this morning. The anonymous author points out that the book of Jonah recounts the efforts of a prophet sent to a gentile (and hostile) nation to warn of God's judgment if they did not repent. Does God hear your prayers regardless of your ethnicity or nationality? The answer is a resounding yes, but only in as much as we call on God's name according to his terms.

Anonymous writes: I think we could benefit from a review of the Book of Jonah (a book that Judaism, Islam and Christianity understand). God hears all prayers, from everyone. A merciful and peaceful God who actively listens and helps both Jew and Gentile.

The main problem with a philosophy that claims that all religions worship the same god (especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) is that no religion makes that claim for itself. God, the God of the Bible is a God open to all people as they call on his name, but only as people call to him on his own terms. He is the Great I AM, without beginning or end. We, as the creation have no right to say to the Creator what he should be called, rather we submit to his terms as our Master.

Remember, Jonah did not call on the people to cry out to their own gods, he called on the people of Ninevah to cry out for mercy to the one true and living God. It was YAHWEH to whom they cried and it was YAHWEH who forgave, not the gods created by their hands. God is passionate first and foremost for his own glory and that glory is bound up in his name. He is the God who saves, but salvation is found in the name of Jesus.
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What a Let Down.

I almost hate to do this because I had made a commitment to myself yesterday to try to be positive on my blog today. Well, tomorrow is positive day, today I have to address something else...sorry.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am an avid supporter of our president, George W. Bush. However, I read a quote from him that has really disappointed me. In an interview with an Arabic news service, President Bush recently said:

Well, first of all, I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace. And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren't religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that – we had a person blow up our – blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that's not a Christian act to kill innocent people.

I believe we can all agree that it is not a Christian act to commit terrorism. It is also true that there are many Muslims around the world who are not actively involved in terrorism and who do not support it as a tenet of their faith. However, it is incomprehensible to suggest that Christians and Muslims (or Bhuddists, Hindus, etc...) pray to the same God. Even if we did not get into the theological concerns for such a claim for Christians, it is insulting to Muslims to believe that their God is the same as the God of Christianity.

But, why can I say with such certainty that we worship a wholly different God than Allah of Islam? For the same reason that I can say we worship a God different than the God of Judaism. God, YAHWEH God has made himself known in this world and has shown us the way to know and worship him. Jesus, one member of the Christian Trinity, specifically showed that to know him is to know God. He went so far as to say that he, Jesus, was the way the truth and the life and was the only pathway to God.

President Bush is right, a man who professes Christianity should not blow up a building. However, a man who professes to be a Christian should not reduce the Triune God of Christianity to being less than he has revealed himself to be in the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Theology vs. Leadership

It seems obvious to me that many large churches of today are large because they have incredible leaders as pastors. That has caused me to realize that one of the greatest needs in the evangelical church today is great leadership from pastors. It is our responsibility as pastors to seek God for the direction of the church and then to run full bore to see that direction fulfilled. Pastors must be great leaders.

However, leadership can never be pursued at the sacrifice of theology. If we as pastors neglect to be theologians, we neglect to be the shepherds God has called us to be. A great leader might grow a corporation or a country club, but a pastor is called to be more than a great leader, he is called to be the shepherd of God's flock. For that reason, we must strive to be leaders and scholars.

Theology and leadership do not stand as opposite ends of a spectrum, but both are essential for effective pastoring in the Twenty-First Century. After all, growing a huge church on flimsy theology is dangerous for those who would have a false sense of confidence in a lesser God than the Bible teaches. Pastors, LEAD AND TEACH. Be the pastor, not the leader or the professor. We, as pastors, must strive to be ALL that God has called us to be and not just part.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When Ecology Replaces Theology

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007 at 2:22 am ET on

Is saving the earth what remains when liberal churches are no longer concerned for the salvation of souls? Have these churches replaced theology with ecology?

Frank Furedi is a British sociologist who teaches at the University of Kent. He is also a controversialist and a public intellectual. In a recent article published at Spike, Furedi suggests that some religious institutions are "busy reinventing themselves by promoting ecological virtues and preaching against the eco-sins of polluters." He offers a most interesting argument.

Furedi contends that a crisis of authority has shaken many churches, and that modern societies the have largely given up on saving traditional morality. In his words:

Sometime back in the 1980s, Western societies gave up on the project of rescuing 'traditional values' and morality. From time to time, conservative politicians and moral entrepreneurs have attempted to launch back-to-basics crusades promoting 'family values'. However, their lack of popular appeal has only exposed society's estrangement from these traditions. Indeed by the Eighties, even religious institutions found it difficult to uphold their own authority with conviction. Instead of influencing society many churches began to internalise the attitudes associated with the lifestyles of their increasingly individualised consumerist flock. The last quarter century has seen a steady diminishing of religious authority in Western societies. Debates about the role of women priests, homosexuality and marriage indicated that religious institutions have become confused about their own relationship to traditional values.

Furedi suggests that these churches are now seeking to find a new platform in order to assert a new claim to authority within the culture. This new platform appears to be ecology and the goal of saving the earth.

His argument is compelling:

In recent years, some in the church have sought to gain the public's ear through the greening of traditional doctrines, and Christ the Saviour is fast becoming Christ the environmental activist. Western society is continually in search of rituals and symbols through which moral probity can be affirmed. It appears that, for many church leaders, the project of saving the planet offers more opportunities for reconstituting rituals and symbols than the saving of souls.

It is not just the odd priest offering absolution through the ritual of eco-confession. Church leaders have embraced the rituals of eco-morality to demonstrate their commitment to a higher good. Absolution through carbon offsets appears to be the way forward.

An observer of church life today, especially within the shrinking domain of liberal Protestantism, will find plenty of evidence for Furedi's hypothesis. Ecological concerns appear to serve as a replacement for abandoned doctrines and outdated concerns -- such as evangelism.

Furedi finds plenty of support for his argument within contemporary Roman Catholicism, but here is his analysis of the situation within the Church of England:

In 2006, the Church of England launched an eco-crusade entitled 'Shrinking the Footprint'. The Archbishop of Canterbury complained that 'early modern religion contributed to the idea that the fate of nature is for it to be bossed around by a detached sovereign will, whether divine or human'. It seems possible that those misguided early modern religionists received that idea from the Book of Genesis, where God gives Man dominion 'over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth'. Now the head of the Anglican church protests about nature being 'bossed around' not only by Man, but by God. This year, the Church of England launched a booklet of green tips for the faithful entitled How Many Christians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb? Its eco-commandments include: share cars on the road to church, use virtuous low-energy lightbulbs but cast out junk mail, and do not flush the loo at night.

So is Christ the Savior is fast becoming Christ the environmental activist? Furedi's argument is both insightful and troubling. There can be no doubt that his argument is true with respect to many churches and denominations. And there is a clear warning here. When churches abandon or marginalize the central doctrines of the Christian faith, another religion soon takes its place. That religion might be a religion of therapy, social action, or ecology -- or any number of other substitutes for the Gospel.

As Furedi explains, this particular temptation can be traced to "the powerful influence that environmentalism exercises over contemporary culture." When churches lose confidence that they can speak to other issues in terms of right and wrong (sex, personal behavior, etc), environmentalism remains. In effect, it is the only socially acceptable form of moralism.

Nevertheless, Furedi believes that this is a losing strategy for the church in terms of social and cultural influence. As he explains, "eco-spirituality cannot really compensate for the loss of traditional moral authority."

Furthermore, once a church embraces environmentalism as its central mission, its authority suffers and even greater loss because the society considers the true authorities for ecology to be scientists, not church leaders. "The shift away from God towards nature inevitably leads to a world where the pronouncements of environmentalist experts trump those of the priesthood," he explains. "It will be interesting to see what will remain of traditional religion as prophecy and revelation is displaced by computerised climate models."

Christians do bear a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. This is not an easy responsibility to bear in the confusing context of modern ecological debates. But the church of Jesus Christ bears the responsibility to be the steward of the Gospel above all other concerns. The temptation to turn to this-worldly concerns at the expense of spiritual concerns is very strong. Beyond this, human beings will worship either the Creator or the creation. When the authority of the Bible is undermined and confidence that we can know the Creator is compromised, the creation itself looms larger and larger as a central passion.

When a passion for seeing sinners converted to faith in Christ declines, a passion for converting people into environmentalists can appear as a replacement purpose and a culturally-attractive mission.

We should take note when a sociologist like Frank Furedi sees the picture so clearly. Why does he see what so many others miss? When a church forfeits its God-given mission, no other mission matters.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Is It Worth It?

I've talked and written a good bit lately on evangelism, especially of those to whom you are closest. One thing that I have not mentioned is that sharing the gospel with our friends and family is not easy. Thankfully we do not live in a country where we will be imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for our faith, but that is not to say that sharing our faith does not have costs related.

Let's be honest, the gospel, by definintion, involves the conviction of sin. To share the gospel with a person is to tell them they are wrong and sinful and that they need to repent and believe in Jesus. No matter how you slice it, that can be a little sticky for some folks. The question, however, is not whether or not there are risks involved. Instead, ask yourself if the risk of the gospel is worth the rewards.

The potential is that you might make a family member or friend mad at you (though, in my experience this is rarely the case), or at the very least put them into an awkward situation. That is uncomfortable, but is it worth your discomfort to give them the opportunity to experience the Savior of the world? Think about it, Jesus died and we don't want to be uncomfortable. It's pretty selfish on our parts isn't it? It's worth it, so get to it!

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