April 2008

At Challies.com Tim Challies has another giveaway. This one is called the “April Giveaway” (click for prize details) although it waited until the last day of April to show up. You can register for the drawing by clicking the banner below or the button in the side bar.

Blessings and have fun.

April Giveaway


In my time in college I was privileged to take my first course in Biblical Ethics. As part of that course I had the opportunity to write a term paper on a topic chosen from a list. Because of personal prejudices that I was discovering in my own life, I chose the topic of homosexuality. I re-read my assessment this morning, and found it stepping forward from where I was when I started my higher education, but miles from where I need to be in terms of Christlikeness. I believe that this is one of the reasons that this particular issue is so telling in America’s version of the church community today.

I found it somewhat surprising, not entirely unexpected, yet still disturbing that David Kinnaman’s research zeroed in on “antihomosexual” as one of the gripes that outsiders have against American Christians today. Surely, this professional researcher did not ask a question like, “How do you see Christians responding to homosexuals?” I have to believe that the rising to the top of our attitudes toward the homosexual community was information that was volunteered rather than elicited specifically. At the same time, the on-going war (it isn’t simply a battle) waging between these two communities is causing younger generations to choose sides and take up banners.

On one hand, if a young person decides to claim his Christianity, the homosexual community labels him as a narrow-minded gay-bashing homophobe. However, if he decides to keep his Christian badge in his pocket so that he can remain loyal to his friends who are either openly gay or struggling with a gay identity, his friends from church will ostracize him as a gay-lover and sin-accepting liberal. All the while this young man is in love with Jesus and wanting to share Christ’s love with those around him—gay and straight alike. It is significant, I believe, that the chapter dealing with our antihomosexual perception is headed by a quotation from “Peter” a 34-year-old gay man, “It’s very much an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the opening shot.” (see page 91)

In the Christian community (especially among evangelicals) we have a tendency to respond to all those who won’t be part of the church because “they are hypocrites” as latching onto a cop-out which makes it easy to avoid church attendance. I think that often we have earned the label, even if many who use that excuse are looking for a ready answer whenever we jump at them with evangelistic fervor. In the same way, we try to cover our own misshapen righteousness in the realm of homosexuality or any other activity that is opposed to what we learn in the Bible with “hate the sin; love the sinner.” I know that I have even tried to be-salve my own spiritual wounds with those very words.

The problem isn’t really in the non-acceptance of homosexuals because they live a lifestyle marked by sin. (My study of Scripture indicates that it is.) No, the problem has to do with delineating sin in the first place. Another thing that is loud and clear from the Scripture (but often ignored when we start naming the sins of others) is that we are to be concerned about our own relationship with a Living, Loving, Holy, Righteous, and Just God rather than others’ failure to have that relationship.

When I take a sin—any sin—that I have either overcome (with Christ’s help) or have never really had a struggle with, and point it out in another person’s life, all the while ignoring the fact that I have a completely different sin which I like to enjoy without doing anything about it, I stack sin on top of sin in my own life. Think of it this way, if I do not struggle with the sin of homosexuality, but want to point out that the one who practices it is living in sin, I am adding to the sin of, say, lying that I just can’t stop. Am I any less a sinner by expecting people to accept me even though I am a pathological liar than is the person who wants me to accept them even though they struggle with any other sin?

Among the Christian community, it has become unacceptable to love the homosexual, but we have tacitly sat by and engorged ourselves in overeating without concern. Is it a better witness for me to carry three hundred extra pounds than it is for me to carry on in any kind of sexual encounter other than with my life? The biblical grounds would suggest no, but the practice of the Christian community has screamed yes by not only accepting, but at times encouraging obesity as the norm among our leaders.

What I have concluded (am concluding?) is that as a Christ follower I have certain responsibilities:

  1. Be more Christlike daily.
  2. Worship God with my life and my lifestyle.
  3. Be a witness for Christ among the people who I encounter.

Any and all of these responsibilities preclude my taking any time to point out the sin in the lives of others. As a matter of fact, if I concentrate on doing just those three things, I won’t have time to police the lives of others for whatever sin may be their struggle. What should be happening is that God begins to speak to the sins of others through my Christlikeness rather than my negative words. And when I do open my mouth to share the truth of Christ, I focus on how good He is rather than how bad my friend is.

Shall we turn people away from the gates of the Kingdom because they make us uncomfortable, or shall we let God love them through us? It’s not my job to change someone else’s life. Jesus can make all the changes He desires—and it’s my job to let Him do it for me.

I’m all for someone making a living—even for someone making a living at his/her calling. It’s really great when that happens because you get to have fun doing what pays the bills. It helps to keep your job from becoming stale and burdensome. I think that God can be honored by those who are able to make their living while performing in their calling. And then I encounter the Christian music industry.

With the continual disclaimer that everything about a certain area of our Christian community is not the spawn of the devil, the practice and public persona of a number of Christian artists makes me wonder, “Are they sincere in what they are doing, or are they simply another expression of mercenary Christianity?”

Here’s the dichotomy as I see it (and of course all opinions are mine and do not reflect all Christians, Baptists, preachers, or even me at some times): The message that these artists sing is one that is of freedom—in living, in being, in doing. It’s the message of the gospel which is actually free for anyone. And then they charge $25.00 for the cheap seats. I’ve come to expect this kind of pricing for sporting events, and even for “cultured” offerings like the opera. But if the object is to get the message to as many people as we can, why do we make it impossible for those who need it most to get in?

Granted, I have heard of one artist who doggedly holds onto the practice of only playing for a “love offering” basis. Of course, there is a rider in the contract that this “love offering only” event must have a minimum seating capacity of 2500. If the average gift in the KFC buckets equals only one dollar per person and the venue is packed, then the result is $2500.00 before songbook, cd, tee-shirt, and poster sales. Is this really honoring to God?

When I lived in east Texas I knew of one church that offered periodic concerts where big name artists performed, without charging a dime or passing the plate. They did allow the retail tables, but the church paid the up-front cost so that anyone could attend and hear the message the artist brought.

One of the disheartening things about dealing with big name artists who claim that what they are doing is “ministry” is the foolish things attached to their contracts. Whether this is because they are represented by an agent who wants to weed out the lookers from the buyers or because they really expect these things, I do not know. Some of the things that I’ve encountered (besides outrageous pricing—which makes you look to the home-grown groups who still do the “love offering” thing even if they don’t have the talent of the big name) are the size and location of the dressing room, the amount and brand of bottled water to be stocked in said dressing room, that the host will provide certain sized bath towels for the artist to take on the stage (apparently they are heavy sweaters). Sure, we ought to provide adequate space for someone to change into their stage clothes—and the more people in the group, the more space they need. Yes, we ought to take care of their needs in the way of water and fruit, etc. But come on, can’t they bring their own towels? Especially if they have to be a certain size, color, and nap!

It all boils down to the question of the day: Is it really a ministry if it’s all about the artist and their wants?

I’m a couple of chapters into David Kinnaman’s research report entitled unChristian. The author promises that people of the church culture won’t like what they read, and I’m sure that the warning will be realized as I work through the book. (For the interested, I’ll be reviewing the book in a couple of weeks after I’ve finished the whole book. Right now, I just want to make a few “gut reaction” observations as I read.) I thought I’d let you watch as I work through the material from time to time. Plus, I’ll get my thoughts down and see how true they ring when I’ve completed my reading.

First of all, two reasons I’m reading the book: (1) I was able to get a copy of the book without any out of pocket expense (I got a free copy). So, I might as well read the thing. (2) And probably more importantly, several respected colleagues have recommended reading this book. It seems to actually be a work of catalyst that will drive the church to the action required for her to re-become the church that Christ intended. I’m always up for trying to find useful information (whether I like it or not).

On the surface this book bears some resemblance to the growing mound of Christian-bashing books that has developed since the turn of the century. At the same time, this book is written by a Christian researcher who is just as floored by what the statistics are telling him as the reader will be. It is a loving nudge—maybe even more of a push—to the church to return to her calling. Leaders listen up.

In chapter 2, Kinnaman reports 6 thematic areas of concern that color the perceptions that people outside the church culture (Kinnaman uses the term “outsiders” as his descriptor of this group, a less invasive term than what Christians habitually use and still a tough term to settle on—such is the problem when looking for a single term to describe a group for the sake of written communication. Keep this in mind when deciding to adopt a term for wholesale use, much like we love the terminology “pagan”, “lost”, or “heathen”) as they decide how they feel about Christians and Christianity. The portrait painted is not pretty. One other quick note: Kinnaman will address each of these themes in a chapter I haven’t read yet, so what you’re getting here is my initial thoughts that may change or be shored up as I get into the research. Outsiders in the 16 to 29 age groupings perceive Christianity with the following characteristics:

  1. Hypocritical. Saying one thing and doing another. As hard as it is to admit it, this is probably an earned perception. So many of the louder voices of the Christian community come across as holier-than-everyone else, morally superior, and without flaw when the reality is we can be just as rotten on the inside as the next guy (often more so).
  2. Too focused on getting converts. The way conservative Christians have developed kamikaze-style witnessing tools, I can’t say that I blame those outside the church for this perception either. So many preachers have encouraged their people to see every conversation as an opportunity to “win somebody to Jesus” that we don’t have time to develop the relationships necessary to make the witness we throw out so freely valid. Yes, I believe that we must share our faith, but sometimes I think that we come across as simply looking for the next notch on our Bible or tally mark on the baptismal pool.
  3. Anti-homosexual. If I take issue with any of the perceptions, this would be it. Mainly because my own perception is one that finds the homosexual community one as a community that doing the same kinds of things the world perceives in the church—pushing itself upon those who are not part of it. At the same time, the more vocal portion of our number make it hard to avoid this perception, because our reaction to those who practice what we see as other than biblically appropriate with a less than loving response.
  4. Sheltered. We are seen as cloistering ourselves away and not looking at the world with a realistic viewpoint (putting our observational heads in the sand, or simply ignoring what we don’t like). To this perception, my response from the church side of the fence is “homeschooling, Christian publishing, Christian music, Christian radio” (see the on-going series on Mercenary Christianity). Are they so wrong about us?
  5. Too political. I’d have to agree here. Not only in the arena of politics, but also within the church community as well. My own denomination looks more like a political entity than a theological/doctrinal body every year.
  6. Judgmental. One word—Pharisees. Like our first century counterparts, we have a tendency to make snap decisions about someone and hold them to a standard that even we can’t keep.

What about you? Do you think that we are earning these perceptions or are young people just missing the boat when they look at Christians and Christianity?

I’m interested in seeing how the explanatory chapters deal with each of these issues. Stay tuned.

Last year I was working through the Chazown journal along with Craig Groeschel’s book by that name. Just after I started, encouraging you to get the book download the journal to help you in your study, the on-line .pdf version of the journal disappeared, with the link taking you to an advertisment to buy the book.

Now I’ve found a link to get the .pdf file again, so if you’re interested in looking for a good life-planning tool click right here for the download.

[Update: The link I had posted above has disappeared. If I find another, I’ll re-link. Thanks, Jeri.]

[Update (again): Found a link that works. Try clicking the link again.]

Recently finished reading the testimonial book Journeys (Missional Press, 2008). It was challenging and exciting and thought-provoking all at the same time. I’ve been trying to digest the concepts that authors Todd Wright and Marty Duren included in their report of their personal journeys to leading churches to be more effective. Boiling it all down, Wright and Duren suggested that while the church as we know it (expressed locally) has become incapacitated because of a focus on what appeals to the “already-churched”, the remedy to this situation is to do what Jesus would do — touch the lives of those outside the church. As a basis for this adventure in advancement Wright insists that we as the church should get to know our community. Who is living there? What will it take to touch their lives with the gospel of Jesus?

A few months ago I read through Paul Powell’s short advisory book Getting the Lead Out of Leadership (self-published, 1997). In his viewpoint, as Powell went through the necessities facing the local pastor, he shared his own practice whenever arriving on a new field of service. He said that he made it a practice in those early, smaller membership churches, to visit all the homes within the town or village in the first year. In the larger churches, he adapted his practice, but still spent the first year getting to know those who lived in the church’s backyard.

As I looked at these two bits of advice, one centered around ministry happening in 2003-2007, and the other based on memories of ministry from the 1950s, I had a brain spasm. It dawned on me that these two different generations of pastors were basically saying the same thing: “To be effective in kingdom work, the church must know its community, and more specifically the church leaders should know where the people are and what kind of touches effectively reach those without Christ.”

I don’t think that Powell, Wright, or Duren would fall into either of the groups that says, “My way is right, and all others are wrong,” although we have plenty of preachers of all generational stripes that do, but rather, would all encourage us to adopt and adapt that method of ministry that best reaches the community outside the church with the message that the church so desparately needs to broadcast.

My conclusion, get to know your community, and lead the church outside her walls to bring those freezing in the outside cold into the warmth of Christ Jesus. Let’s get over ourselves and start looking to others for a change.

What do you think? Is the church effective? Can she be effective?