April 28, 2010
Addressing doctrinal divisions on day one of the Q conference.
The Q gathering kicked off in Chicago today. 600 Christian leaders in the church, business, social sector, education, government, and the arts assembled at the Civic Opera House to hear some very stimulating talks and engage in more conversations themselves. One of the highlights from day one was Tim Keller.
Keller used his 18 minutes (all Q talks are 18, 9, or 3 minutes...there’s a predominately displayed countdown clock the audience can see to hold the speaker accountable...clearly not invented by a preacher) to talk about the polarization in the church between the “justification people” and the “justice people.”
As Keller describes them, the justification people are all about justification by faith alone. Only after being justified can a person live as he/she ought to live. While Keller was in full agreement with this doctrine, he said the unfortunate implication for many of the justification people is the belief that “we are mainly here to do evangelism” and they view “justice as a distraction.”
Continue reading Tim Keller on Justification and Justice...
April 27, 2010
Seeking Christ in an age of complexity.
I’m struck by the fact that Tozer wrote these words in 1948–more than 60 years ago. Was he ahead of time? Or is the craving for simplicity a constant one? Are there always distractions and busyness–whether you’re living in the 1970’s, the 1700’s or 700 BC?
Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.
If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity.
–A.W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God, p. 17-18)
God, help me to embrace the simplicity of faith you intended for each of us. Help me to come to you like a child, open-armed, fully-trusting, and experience the wonder of your embrace. In Jesus Name. Amen.
April 26, 2010
You're convinced that your sermons provide a nourishing spiritual meal. How could anyone claim otherwise?
This article comes from our friends at PreachingToday.com. Check out more on PT blog.
I have a confession to make. I am fed up with hearing people say, "I'm not being fed." While I do not hear it often, the comment surfaces just enough about my preaching and the preaching of others to make me want to scream. Once my emotions settle down, though, I try to discern what people are really saying. In my experience, the complaint "I'm not being fed" is usually a code phrase for some other frustration that lurks below the surface.
This realization hit me a few years ago after observing a strange turn of events. First, a young couple left the church I served for another because (drumroll here) they were "not being fed." I puzzled over this because I felt like I was in a season where my preaching really was connecting Scripture well to the lives of our people. I went through a checklist of possible problems. Had I lost my passion? No. Was I short-changing my sermon preparation? No. Had I slipped into merely talking to people about the Bible rather than talking to people about themselves from the Bible? No. Was I neglecting to preach the gospel? No. Still, this young couple—whom I'll refer to as Brett and Danielle—claimed they were not being fed, and they got involved in a nearby church plant.
A year went by, and I accepted the call to a church in another region of the United States. Then, shortly after my move, I started getting emails from Brett and Danielle. Danielle, a diligent Bible student and a Bible study leader, emailed me with perceptive questions about a Bible passage she was studying. At the end of one of her emails she wrote: "We sure miss your preaching and teaching!" Huh? I thought they were not being fed.
Continue reading What "I'm Not Being Fed" Really Means (Part 1)...
April 22, 2010
Welcome to a strange new world where atheists do outreach and evangelicals reject God.
For obvious reasons, atheists and evangelicals often find themselves on opposite sides of the cultural battle line. The rise of “New Atheism” via best selling books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and the emergence of “Constitutional Evangelicals” comprised of people more likely to know the Second Amendment than the Second Commandment, has inflamed the tensions between the two groups.
But the new breeds of atheists and evangelicals may have more in common than they’d like to admit.
For example, some within New Atheism are proselytizing their beliefs with the fervor, and in come cases anger, more often associated by our culture with evangelicals. From an international ad campaign on buses dismissing belief in God, to rallies at universities inviting students to exchange their Bibles for pornography, some atheists are no longer content with a live-and-let-live approach to those adhering to religion. Instead, they are actively trying to convert, or is the word un-convert, the masses.
Last October NPR reported that Christopher Hitchens told a packed crowd at the University of Toronto, “I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right.” He told NPR, “If I said to a Protestant or Quaker or Muslim, ‘Hey, at least I respect your belief,’ I would be telling a lie.”
Of course not all atheists agree with Hitchen’s “evangelistic” approach.
Continue reading What Evangelicals and Atheists Have in Common...
April 21, 2010
Moving beyond the "messiah" and "manager" pastoral models.
A friend told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years. That was how long it had been since my ordination. I picked up a copy.
Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy clergy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed. They consider healed people to be numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.
Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.
I have both messianic and managerial tendencies. It is too easy for congregants to become statistics, which I can use to inflate my sense of clergy effectiveness.
That realization prompted me to search for a new pastoral identity, one that treated people more personally. I found one at the Louvre.
Continue reading The Pastor as Docent...
April 20, 2010
The desire others carry for God can help ignite our own.
Some people have a knack for making me hungry to know God. I know a few people who when I’m done talking with them make me want to know and love Him more. I treasure those people. They don’t try to be religious. They don’t attempt to be spiritual. They simply are themselves and in the process radiate the presence of God. Many of them have trekked through dark valleys yet they still carry a hopeful, persistent, passion and love about them.
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart. St. Bernard stated this holy paradox in a musical quatrain that will be instantly understood by every worshipping soul:
We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still:
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
–A. W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God, p. 15)
Tozer notes that when you come near the holy men and women you “feel the heat of their desire after God.”
I pray today radiate such passion, fervor and love of God. May that warmth flow through the core of your being. In Jesus Name. Amen.
April 16, 2010
How Url Scaramanga thinks about cool new church names.
Have you noticed that church names are getting increasingly strange? Our friend Dennis Baker has. He's been keeping a list of church names in order to document how far we've come from the days of "First Presbyterian" and "Springfield Baptist." He sent us the following list of 129 church names. I've added my reactions in parentheses.
2. Revolution (Where only senior pastors get beheaded.)
3. Radiance (Where the female vocalists all glitter like Mariah Carey.)
4. Elevation (U2 songs every bloody Sunday.)
6. Renovation (You can do it! God can help.)
8. enCompass (Wii th-|-nk [outside] the box. We R crAtiVe.)
9. Epiphany Station (Next stop, Conjunction Junction!)
10. Soma (Our pastor knows Greek.)
12. Rock Harbor (If your life hasn’t run aground yet, we can help.)
13. Journey (“Don’t Stop Believing” is our theme song.)
Continue reading A Church by Any Other Name ......
April 14, 2010
What the health insurance reforms tell us about the new age of adult accountability.
Following this blog, I figured the best way to rack up comments was to write about health care. So I thought I might explore one element of the recently enacted health-reform legislation that grabbed my attention as a prospective pastor. Though I worked for a short time on Capitol Hill, much of the far-reaching legislation eludes my understanding. We will be sorting out the implications of these reforms for years, if not decades. But one provision stands out as noteworthy, because it exposes a major social change with questionable merit. Until young adults turn 26, insurers are now required to let their parents retain them as dependents, no matter whether they have married or found gainful employment.
The move will benefit many of the 13.2 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 who currently do not have health insurance. According to the Commonwealth Fund, almost 30 percent of this age group foregoes health insurance for a variety of reasons. Students may continue from college to graduate school through at least their mid-20s. An unhealthy job market directs others into internships, residencies, or part-time positions that do not provide benefits. Youth (with its high risk-tolerance) convinces some to take their chances that no catastrophic illness will befall them.
This new insurance mandate matches the new social reality for 20-somethings who cannot or do not become independent adults when they turn 18, or even 21. According to the Brookings Institution, about 70 percent of 30-year-old adults in 1960 had married, started a family, and achieved financial independence. That figure had dropped below 40 percent by 2000. More young men and women are attending college, but the median number of years needed to complete a degree has risen from four to five since 1970. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 without college degrees earned less money in 2002 than did men from the same age group in 1975, when adjusted for inflation. But their 2002 peers who finished college and completed at least some graduate school earned more than both groups. So if you want to achieve economic independence in your 20s today, college and perhaps even graduate school has become something of a necessity.
Continue reading The Hansen Report: Is 26 the New 18?...
April 13, 2010
The true nature of worship.
As you discovered last week, we’re going to be celebrating Tuesdays With Tozer this spring. Tozer has a knack for stirring up the hunger to know God in my own heart and I hope he’ll do the same for you.
“One of the most liberating declarations in the New Testament is this: ‘The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23, 24). Here the nature of worship is shown to be wholly spiritual. True religion is removed from diet and days, from garments and ceremonies, and placed where it belongs - in the union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God.” -A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God
As I reflect on these words I’m reminded just how hard it is to worship God in spirit. Worshiping God requires focus, energy, commitment, and discipline. It moves us into a place of humility and dependence where we are invited to embrace the goodness of God, His grace, His mercy, His love and in the process we love in spite of ourselves and find ourselves enthralled with Him. Lord, Help me to worship you in spirit and truth. Amen.
April 8, 2010
Now that we've identified those leaving the church, what are we to do about them?
I ended Part 1 of this post with a question—what is the church to do about the growing ranks of the de-churched? I believe the answer depends on which de-churched group one is talking about. In Part 1 I identified two sides of the de-churched population—those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.
Let’s start with the false gospel side. As Matt Chandler explained, these de-churched are fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviors.
While there are many churches that promote this sort of false thinking, including those within the prosperity gospel crowd, I believe most do not. So why do so many Christians, particularly the young, carry these beliefs? In most cases the problem isn’t what the church is preaching, but in what it is assuming.
For example, the popular summarization of the gospel known as “The Four Spiritual Laws” begins with the statement, “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This idea, drawn from scripture and rooted in orthodoxy, may be faithfully preached in your church. But how is it received? How does a person formed and hardened for decades in the furnaces of consumerism hear this statement?
Continue reading Who Are the De-Churched? (Part 2)...
April 7, 2010
What can we learn from Piper's leave of absence from public ministry?
As nearly everyone has now heard, John Piper is taking an 8-month leave of absence from public ministry starting in May. The announcement was made to his congregation during his sermon on March 28. He plans to examine his life and focus on his marriage and family. Piper said:
"You could view this as a kind of fasting from public ministry. One of the goals in this kind of fasting is to discern levels of addiction. Or, as Paul Tripp or Tim Keller might say, levels of idolatry. The reality check is: What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no 'prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety'?"
Whether it's international or merely local, pastors who find themselves on a platform week after week are going to face some level of notoriety. But how do we keep it from poisoning our souls? Many have applauded Piper for his honesty and preemptive disconnection from public ministry rather than the punitive disconnection so often seen among celebrity pastors. But rather than focusing on Piper, what should this development make the rest of us think about?
Below is an excerpt from Piper's announcement. You can read the entire sermon on his site.
Continue reading John Piper's "Poisonous Cup"...
April 6, 2010
A.W. Tozer is a man who will make you hungry for God.
I'm thrilled to welcome Margaret Feinberg to Out of Ur this spring. Margaret is a fine author and speaker, and she's a great addition to the conversation on Ur. For the next few weeks we'll be posting her reflections on the writings of A.W. Tozer. -Url Scaramanga
This spring I’ve decided to shake things up and throw a Tuesday with Tozer party every week. I hope to offer short snippets from this wonderful writer and lover of God who penned classics including: The Pursuit of God and Knowledge of the Holy.
Tozer wasn’t a man of means. While on his way home from work at a tire company, a street preacher cried out, “If you don’t know how to be saved…just call on God.” When Tozer arrived home, he followed the street preacher’s advice and his life changed forever. Tozer’s story, like many others, reminds us not to mock to those whose approach to sharing the good news of God is different than our own.
Though he lacked formal theological training, Tozer became a pastor of a small church and continued to pastor for more than four decades. What made Tozer extraordinary was his approach to prayer and faith. He became enthralled by God in a way few men or women do-though many hope to. In his first editorial, he wrote:
“It will cost something to walk slow in the parade of the ages, while excited men of time rush about confusing motion with progress. But it will pay in the long run and the true Christian is not much interested in anything short of that.”
Continue reading Tuesdays with Tozer...
April 5, 2010
The church has a significant image problem and denouncing Beck won't solve it.
The email provided a helpful link and instructed me to “Tell Glenn Beck: I’m a social justice Christian.” The blunt Fox News pundit had recently outed “social justice” as code language for socialism. According to Beck, should you uncover this sinister conspiracy at your church, the best course of action is to run “as fast as you can.” As Skye pointed out on this blog, the interesting thing about Beck’s claim is not its validity or his sanity but how “the church engages this issue of social justice and its role in the life and mission of God’s people.”
In the days following Beck’s rant, links were posted via Twitter and Facebook to articles and videos lampooning Beck’s character and claims. I was invited to join virtual groups to demonstrate my opposition to any version of Christianity that doesn’t claim social justice as a central tenant.
Why the stampede to distance ourselves from this talking head’s pontifications about social justice? I’d like to suggest two motivating factors—the tarnished public image of the American church and personal insecurities about our Christian identity—that, unfortunately, cannot sustain the actual pursuit of social justice.
Continue reading Glenn Beck is Not the Enemy...