The Right Stick

Out here in Seattle, you can’t swing a cat without running into someone disillusioned with Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. Not just any stick is good for beating on Driscoll or MHC, so we ought to make distinctions between the good and the bad, the helpful and unhelpful. Sincere Christians should shun gossip–negative speech that helps no one–and strive to edify each other. Here are three unhelpful types of criticism followed by an attempt at a constructive one.

Malicious   This point is obvious, but someone who tries to tear down the church with openly sinful motives shouldn’t be listened to. I’m thinking of one blog post where the author offered to fist fight Mark at the end of it–not very subtle. Open bitterness, violence, slander, all the obvious signs of people who pick at emotional scabs should be pitied, not promoted. It doesn’t mean they don’t have anything right; they might. It means they’re not judicious, their motives are twisted, and the author of Hebrews warns us that roots of bitterness spring up and defile many (12:15). Many sympathetic readers of these attacks would never talk or write this way, but they are lured into giving ear to it. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend. He may well be an enemy of your Savior, though.

Self Pitying  These are not necessarily scurrilous but still extremely unhelpful, and when they continue they can define someone. How would you counsel someone who blogged about their unfaithful spouse for years after the end of the marriage? What if they justified doing it as a warning to others because they too might end up marrying this person or someone like them? There is a deep temptation in the human heart to classify ourselves as victims and to run this line in our heads over and over. It’s plausible because we are truly victims to some degree of the sins of others. But forgiving and letting go, knowing everyone will answer to their own Master, is freedom. Of course this doesn’t preclude appropriate and productive discussion of situations that occur. The question is whether or not it’s productive. Should you tell the whole world about this?

If you want a test whether your complaint is edifying or not, ask yourself, at the end of your conversation or blog post, are you rejoicing in the work of Christ? Or are you feeling like a victim and pitying yourself? The apostle Paul tells the story about his enemies preaching the gospel to injure him as an occasion of joy: “Only in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that a I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). A true victim of malice, he was anything but victimized, and his whole recounting of it makes everyone thankful for him and God’s greater purpose in his persecution.

Inaccurate   For those further away from Driscoll, bitterness is less of a temptation, though envy might well be at play. Who is this upstart who began with no seminary education? But I don’t want to read hearts–critic caveat. Still, some conclusions like Carl Trueman’s–”The overall picture is one of disaster“–are simply false. The overall picture is lots of evangelism, complementarian integrity, a call to masculine leadership, aggressive church planting, lots of outstanding books published, and who knows what other good fruit will fall off the young, restless and reformed tree. Of course, all of these virtues are imperfect since the church is run by people, but they are virtues nonetheless. I’ve met a lot of people who have outgrown the info-tainment worship and other immaturities at MHC, but were either wonderfully converted or discipled or both there. If Paul is thankful for his enemies, how much more should we be thankful for these brothers and sisters and the good work that continues there?

Trueman also makes the point that “there is no real accountability involved”. He refers to the incident where the executive elders at MHC approved the strategy of a marketing firm they hired to spend $200,000 getting Driscoll’s marriage book up the NY Times’ bestseller list. This was a bonehead move but for different, and actually more substantial, reasons than Trueman states. It goes in the same category as the recent exposure of MHC’s policy of having their pastors sign non-compete agreements: worldliness.

The problem is not lack of accountability. The elders took responsibility for the marketing move saying it was “unwise.” It’s not like this was a shotgun decision by a rogue elder. This was something they decided to do, and such elders must steward the large resources they’re entrusted with. What they didn’t confess, but should have, is not that it was unwise, but that it was worldy, wanting to become great by other means than those Jesus allows. He says to become the greatest by becoming the servant of all, not by marketing tricks or by implementing policies that ensure numerical growth in competition with other local churches (!). These are policies that dozens of elders and maybe hundreds of deacons tolerate and de facto endorse, and we don’t need one-sided accounts of private meetings to see it. It’s public.

This worldliness doesn’t ruin all the other good things that are happening at the church for which, like Paul at Rome, we can and must be thankful for, cynics notwithstanding. If we see the situation rightly, this gratitude drives our hope and prayers for this part of His kingdom.

 

 

Faux Tolerance & What It Means for You

It’s time for everyone to get out their copy of 1984 and read it. That CEO Brendan Eich treated everyone at Mozilla equally and still was forced out in the name of tolerance because he gave $1000 to a Prop 8 Campaign six years ago is official Newspeak, where a thoughtcrime is defined as the “act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party.” The fact that at that time Eich simply agreed with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who said “Marriage has a historic, religious and moral context that goes back to the beginning of time. And I think a marriage has always been between a man and a woman”,  is simply material for the memory hole. Clinton only came out last year in favor of homo marriage with no apologies for her past crimes against human rights.

It’s not accurate to identify the ruling party as homosexuals because they aren’t ruling and they are only 2-3% of the population. The president of the old homosexual movement was Andrew Sullivan who said the firing of Eich disgusts him as it should anyone who wants a tolerant and diverse society. Sullivan is what used to be known as a liberal, that is, someone who can actually stomach the views of those who disagree with them without calling for their careers and heads. He also continues to admirably stand against the defenders of Gaystapo coercion. 

Some will think that this heresy hunting is limited to the upper echelons, CEOs and lawmakers and such, but it’s not. People in the grip of this myopia are willing to go after florists and photographers, and most recently a local grocer in Sellwood, OR–what were they thinking trying to move into an “open-minded” neighborhood with all that dissent and diverse thought? Irony is lost on these people.

Mainstream news networks didn’t mention the Eich story last week, and this tell us the shaming of faux tolerance is working. Cowards fear shame and will ignore injustice, shouting down voices who stand for it, even when the voice in Andrew Sullivan’s. Anyone who believes in freedom of speech, much less freedom of religion, has no option but speak up when they have opportunity. They must speak first to their own children and not refrain due to the idea that “this is just politics.” No, this is the freedom for your neighbor to own or work at a grocery store while holding the opinion that sodomy isn’t a good idea. This is the smallest example of live and let live. So first, you must speak . Second, you should know what’s coming when you do, when you profess to agree with Hillary in early 2013. You’ll be labeled by Newspeak with all of your hate speech and unevolved opinion. But that’s okay. The opinions of those quashing diversity in the name of it are hilarious and need to be laughed at and pitied, but not taken seriously as every insecure bully demands.

 

Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day

The Truth

We don’t know very much for certain about Valentine (Latin Valentinus) other than it seems his death was on February 14. His name comes from the Latin valens which means strong. Pope Gelasius established a feast in his name in AD 496 but admitted lacking details about his life. There may be more than one martyr named Valentine but similar accounts of their lives lead us to think they refer to one man.

One account reports that Valentine served as a priest in Rome and was condemned by Emperor Claudius II who had forbidden marriage in order to strengthen his military. Valentine performed marriages anyway, was taken prisoner, and though initially liked by Claudius was eventually beaten with clubs and stones and beheaded around 270 after sharing the gospel with the Emperor. Other stories have him refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, effectively praying for healing for his jailer’s blind daughter, and leaving a note signed “Your Valentine” for her on the day of his execution. Continue reading

Thick & Clear

C.S. Lewis gave an address titled Christian Apologetics (found in God in the Dock)  to Anglican priests and youth leaders at a church in Wales where he made a distinction between Thick and Clear religions:

By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the the belly.

Thick religion accounts for the goodness of our “parts and passions”, as previous writers called them. It’s important to say the goodness of the passions, because most belief systems do something with them, and at least since Plato the West has tended to consider the body something to ultimately escape. To be in heaven, tragically even in many Christian churches, is to be airily disembodied. So ethereal has come to mean “heavenly” and “light, thin, airy.” Thick religion embraces the goodness of beer and baseball, of bed and board.

Clear religion utilizes what the West has identified as fundamental to our species, homo sapiens, thinking man. Man may love bread, but he doesn’t live by it alone. He thinks, studies, compares, classifies, and writes poems about it. Someone said no pleasure is complete until it is remembered. So Thick and Clear go together. Lewis argues that only two religions really combine these, Hinduism and Christianity.

But Hinduism fulfills it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighboring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. but Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalistic ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.

The Son of man came eating and drinking. The Word of God took on flesh, and after his bodily resurrection Jesus ate fish and honey. In Him we see a continual adventure, truth and wonder for the mind, and exultant joy in the body; we find the way, the truth, and the life seamlessly woven together.

Ending Spiritual Hokey Pokey

This article from The Atlantic (6/13) describes the testimonies of students who left the church and ended up members of Secular Student Alliances (SSA) or Freethought Societies (FS). The Fixed Point Foundation conducted interviews with students all over the nation, and their findings are fascinating, showing the rise of atheism resulting from the dumbing down of discipleship in the church. 

Bonhoeffer famously said “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And many do. But if you bid someone come and find the answers to all his problems and have his best life now, or bid him come and have an awesome time playing twister and listening to the band, well, he comes but then he goes. If we make the message of the gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the call to repentance vague or shallow, it should follow that people put a right foot in and a right foot out, and do the spiritual hokey pokey in and out of the church.

Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again. Continue reading

A word about the Word

I continue my series of posts for fathers of young children. With you in mind, I write these infrequently knowing how busy you are. Welcome!

This is definitely a “God, Jesus, Bible” topic. You gotta have it. If I were the devil, I would: 1) want you to think of the Bible as something you have to do in a burdensome way, not something you get to do in a refreshing way; 2) think of reading the Bible as a heavy, difficult thing; 3) make you feel guilty for not trudging your way through. This way, when you actually take it up, you’re already a bit tired, likely trying to rush, and most interested in doing the minimum to get rid of that guilt.

Before you can open the Bible to your kids you need to open it to yourself, and if it’s a burden for you it will be the same for them. You can only give what you have. Jesus says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). When the disciples ask him how to pray, he tells them to form a prayer chain and pray continuously one hour each for 24 hours. Oh wait, I had him confused with someone else. He told them to pray for about 45 seconds: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).  Continue reading

8 Ways to Make Herding the Cats to Church Easier

In the dictionary worship comes right after worn, worn-out, worry, worrywart, worse and worsen. Sometimes on Sunday mornings worship follows the same sequence. Getting children and young people to the worship place is too often as far as we get in helping our offspring to worship. As the dropout rate of older kids indicates, there has got to be a better way! … Recently I listened to a group of parents share their frustrations with Sunday mornings. These were parents whose lives are given to Christian ministry–parents steeped in Scripture, parents committed to rearing their children in ways that honor the Lord. Even though I understood, my heart just broke as Sunday morning was described as “the worst morning of my week.” One mother confessed, “Sometimes I’m relieved to stay home if one of the kids is sick.” Another shared, “I’m just exhausted by the time I get to church.”           –Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew

Getting the tribe to church can be an exercise in herding cats, but with the added task of getting the cats dressed and fed! Still, this herding is important since the last thing you want your kids to think is that the light yoke of following Jesus is really heavy on Sunday morning. If anything should be joyous, it’s  worshipping the Maker of heaven and earth. Joyous, however, doens’t mean easy. Here are 8 ways to make church, and getting there, better. Continue reading

Your Promotion

Temptations and challenges come to us in many ways—the job, the kids, the spouse, the neighbor, the family member, the car, the checkbook, the medical condition—to infinity and beyond!

Paul assures us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). As much as you feel like the only one, you’re not. That’s comforting in a way. What’s even more comforting is the next verse, which is why he put it there: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way to escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Escape, you’re thinking, is exactly what I need right now! But it’s not that sort of escape, the kind where you pull a cord and disappear from the difficult situation. Rather, the escape is the kind where you are actually able to handle it, deal with it, held up by grace. You endure.

This is always easy to see and say from the outside, and extremely difficult to do so from the inside. The belly of the beast is acidic. This is why we must say it from the outside so that when pressed on all sides and distracted, we can remember. Players shoot thousands of free-throws in practice so when the fans are screaming and the game is on the line, they don’t forget how.

The ways of escape provided by God are as many as there are difficult situations. But each of them is laid hold of by our faith, our continued trust in a God who raises the dead: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:29).

The most exciting thing about seemingly impossible circumstances is our great privilege of being in them. If God won’t test you beyond your ability, and he says he won’t, then guess what? You’re up for it. No, you weren’t asked beforehand, but that isn’t important. We have no choice in this life but to be stretched because our maker will have it no other way. Of course this doesn’t mean that God somehow promises to withhold the consequences of our sinful or foolish actions, but it does mean he will bless us in the midst of even those. How much more should we embrace the chaos that comes from sanctified hard work and good desires–like helping the hurting, having many children, educating those children, and building a life? We are given and entrusted with these problems because we are equipped to solve them. So if and when you feel unready for the latest insanity, the good news is that it comes with on the job training. This is your promotion.

wolf ready

Paul assures the elders in Ephesus that soon they will have to deal with wolves. “I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). The question was not if, but when. And building a wall around the church would be no help; the trouble would come from among them. Paul pulls no punches, and one can imagine the look on the Ephesians’ faces as he told them about this pending internal conflict, not unlike the reaction the disciples had in the upper room when Jesus said one of them would betray him. Every church needs an immune system for dealing with the sort of people who have a desire to make disciples in their own name, not Jesus’, and are willing to attack the vulnerable in the flock to do it. “Be alert”, Paul says (20:31). But what does this look like? Some leaders anticipate this by cultivating a climate of suspicion. “Which one of you will betray me?” Much preaching today is consistently delivered this way, causing genuine and peaceable Christians to experience undue doubt about their motives and even their salvation. Being alert doesn’t mean being suspicious or thinking evil of another. Any body that would withstanding sickness needs first to be healthy. The best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the genuine article. “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (20:32). Every church will deal with division, coming from within, at some point, and being alert to this fact, the best preparation is an exuberant love for and knowledge of God and his gracious gospel. This is how you get ready for a wolf fight.