If you are in the Christian church you may have heard a lot of voices in the past few years lamenting the inability of the church to connect with young adults who are passionate about justice and mercy and who are tired of legalism and a culture that stifles searching and questions. These things are all probably true for a lot of people.

But there’s a terrible and frightening irony here. The voices are coming from the middle-aged. No, not the people who think they’re middle-aged. Those people are my parents generation. That’s the generation in the church who taught us to fight with each other for what we wanted. That’s the generation that taught us that leaving to find (or make) something after our own image is the right way to handle disagreement. Because, really, don’t we all agree that divorce isn’t so bad as their parents made us think? And isn’t starting a new church across town that makes me comfortable how the church should grow? That’s the generation that taught us how to shop around for lovers, friends, churches. That’s the generation that shaped our values, both good and bad. It is their behavior that helped shape how we live because we adopt what has been modeled for us and we react against the ways in which they were overbearing.

No, these voices of the middle-aged are my generation (and older as I still consider myself pretty young at the age of 32). I’m about the age of Jesus when he was leading men and women into the Kingdom of God, teaching and training them how to live the way He lived. But we like to think we are younger than we are. We aren’t. For many reasons, we haven’t matured in ways we should have, but neither has our parent’s generation. I think we inherited that from them as well. Most of us are of the age to have great and/or terrible influence over what is accomplished in our congregations, communities and families. We are the ones shaping the world around us. We’ve labeled our parents generation as irrelevant in the church but we still cry out, “Woe are we who are young and oppressed by the leaders of the church.”

We certainly desire and seek out values that are good and in opposition to this behavior… stability, community, trust. But we do it through learned behavior. We leave. And we do it quickly because we saw the bickering and fighting and we don’t want it and we can’t handle it. We are sick of it. So we leave at the first sign of trouble. Many of our generation left the church because of fighting in the church at large, or fighting in their congregation, or fighting in their family, or fighting with what they were taught vs. what they observe. I’m not blaming the previous generation. In fact, my point is that we need to understand where we have come from and where we are so that we can take responsibility for ourselves.

Here’s the terrible and frightening irony: We are now the leaders in the church. Regardless of title or position, for better or worse, our generation is doing the leading. What we are crying out against is a phantom–a memory of our formative years and we are crying out against our own creation and influence. In the words of Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1

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As many of you know, we’re somewhat mixed in feelings when it comes to Mark Driscoll, with some of us as fans and others, um, anti-fans.

I think, though, that at least for a day, he should be an honorary PPP’er, after reading his response to critics of Rick Warren and the events of the past week. I offer a link to his article and the following quote from the article, with no additional commentary:

“These people are often well intended but badly informed. Rather than reading the doctrinal statement on his church’s website to discover what he believes, they instead get bizarre bits and pieces strung together out of context from extremist “discernment” ministries with no theological credibility or research integrity. Subject to lying, fearful and gullible people are then guilty of lying and gossiping as they swarm like bees around a colony every time some queen bee summons them for orders to head out for online stinging. I make a conscious effort to avoid these and porn sites for the same reason: they are filled with horrible trash that ruins lives.”

Amen.

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Matthew Warren, youngest child of Pastor Rick Warren, suffered from several aspects of mental illness his entire life of 27 years. In a moment of deep depression, he took his own life Friday.

We were not created to die (thanks, Adam) and we certainly were not created to outlive our children. Not being a parent, I can only begin to sympathize with what Rick and Kay must be going through.

Please be in prayer for the family in this time of profound grief.

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 (emphases mine)

A gloomy “slouching toward Gomorrah” view of culture leads, I think, to meanness. If we think we are on the losing end of the arc of history, we slide into outrage. If we see ourselves, though, as part of a kingdom that is triumphant in Christ, we ought to display a kind of provocative tranquility. We see those who disagree with us not as threatening to us or to our gospel, but those who, like all of us were, are held captive to an accusing power. We speak with convictional kindness because we love our neighbors, and because we are confident in our gospel. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against Jesus’ onward march, then why are we terrified by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? — Russell Moore

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In my younger days, I played a lot of video games on my computer. (Anyone remember Commander Keen and its cutting-edge use of EGA graphics in the early ’90s?)  The real drain on my time, though, came with the release of Wolfenstein 3D, one of the first FPS (first-person shooter) games to employ all three dimensions. Although it looked very cheesy by today’s standards, it was mind-blowing back then. It was also very addictive — I knew that I had stayed up too late the night before playing the game when I walked down certain hallways at work and would slow my pace as I approached an intersection.

As with all FPS games (at least back then), the basic scheme of Wolfenstein 3D was simple — work your way through various levels, killing the henchmen until you reach the ultimate battle against the “boss” (the head of the bad guys). Along the way, you could pick up items that would regenerate your health (if you had been non-fatally wounded), better weaponry, and random treasure. But the bulk of your points was earned by killing the henchmen. In some FPS games, if it took more than one bullet to kill a henchman, you would earn some points for wounding him, but then even more for killing him.

Fast-forward to 2013 and shift over to the real world.

A fairly prominent blogger has put out a couple of tweets recently that are salient to my (upcoming) point. The context is unclear, but — to be honest — it’s also irrelevant.  Here are the tweets in question:

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the smoking jacket of God, and take up the tea cup of daintiness”

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the faculty lounge discussion group suit of God”

He’s obviously riffing off the Scripture that advises the Christian to “[p]ut on the whole armor of God”. But there can be — and in that blogger’s tribe, there often is — a problem with applying that verse incorrectly. Because if you look at the whole verse, you notice some elaboration (emphasis mine):

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

And just in case it’s not clear enough what we’re fighting, Paul goes on in the next verse (emphasis mine):

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

You see, hearkening back to my illustration, the devil (and his demons) are the “boss”. But you know who the henchmen are? They’re people.

Are they being used to achieve the devil’s purposes? Sometimes.

Are they even doing so with full knowledge and willingness? Sometimes.

Is every last one of them a person for whom Jesus died? YES! YES! YES! 1000 times YES!

(Note: even if you’re a Calvinist who would cite your belief in limited atonement to object to that last question, you still don’t know who the “elect” — in your usage of the term — are, so practically, the answer is still “yes”.)

The “boss” needs to be killed — and Jesus will do that completely and finally one day. And if our actions in the meantime can cause a wound or two on the “boss”, that’s groovy.

But this is real life. This is not a game. We don’t get any points for (ideologically) wounding or killing the henchmen. Jesus did not come to give us “life, and life more confrontational.”

Stop it.

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A friend of mine pointed out this article today. It’s the story of the friendship between Shane Windemeyer (an LGBT leader) and Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-A) as told from the perspective of Windemeyer. It’s a bit long, but not nearly as long as the time that Cathy invested in building the friendship.

Go ahead and read the article (don’t bother with the comments) and then come back here for some random thoughts.

  1. How cool is it that Cathy took the time to do this?
  2. Imagine how hard he worked to make Windemeyer understand the distinction between his strong beliefs and his view of a person.
  3. I’m grateful that Windemeyer saw (and noted in this article) that Cathy was also taking a great risk by going public with the friendship.
  4. Remember the story that Windemeyer related about the frat boys displaying hate in the name of Chick-fil-A and how it bothered Cathy? Now substitute “professing Christians” for “frat boys” and “Christ” for “Chick-fil-A”. How do you think the Guy that runs that “brand” reacts to the same kind of actions?

There’s a wall of stereotype of how members of the LGBT community view Christians. Now let’s be charitable to the Christians and assume that the entirety of that wall is the fault of the LGBT community (that Christians have done nothing to contribute to the building of the wall) and that everything that comprises the wall is fallacious.

(Personally, I think that’s nowhere near the truth, but we’ll go with it for the sake of argument.)

Regardless of Christians’ involvement in the building of the wall or the veracity of its content, we have done extremely little to tear down that wall. And so, in order to form a friendship with Windemeyer, Cathy had to tear down the piece of that wall that was between those two men. And Cathy did indeed take a significant risk in going public with the friendship.

Why?

Because some people on his side of the wall would be upset that he was tearing down some of it.

Which pretty much destroys the charitable assumption that it’s all “their” fault. Oops.

Which, in turn, means that those who would be upset are either perfectly cool with the existence of a wall of falsehood or they actually believe the falsehood themselves. Neither of those scenarios put the Christian in a good light.

In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

We often cite this passage in conjunction with the first clause of Romans 1:16 (”I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”) and decide that the light represents — and the gospel is comprised of — solely our beliefs. But then we hide under a basket the fact that Jesus hung out with the most reviled people of His day. And we hide under a basket the fact that the apostles busted their butts to reach out to people who had never heard of this Jesus guy (or worse yet, had a completely incorrect view of Him).

Worst of all, we hide under a basket the fact that God became man to bring about reconciliation. He had to radically change His being to accomplish what He believed was necessary.

We don’t have to do anything that drastic. All we have to do is tear down a stupid wall.

The next verse in Matthew 5 says:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Our actions are supposed to turn people to God. And not just that, but actually cause them to glorify Him.

Why are the words “epic fail” ringing in my ears?

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John Stott:

Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love.

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There is a blog writer out there — we’ll call him Gary.*

Gary started out a recent post by stating that he had great reluctance to write it. It was about the shooting at Sandy Hook and lots of people had already written about it; for a while, he didn’t see value in adding his perspective. But eventually, he came up with some (IMHO) helpful and unique thoughts, and so he wrote them down.

One of the other reasons that he cited for his reluctance was that he was tiring of blogging. While he is a self-deprecating sort (which earns him points in my book), his tiredness was not so much that he did not feel that he was having impact, but more personal reasons and a shifting of priorities. Not surprisingly, several of the comments by his “fans” — and even a close friend — told him that he should not stop blogging.

What was frightening was the fact that — while briefly ascribing to him value in his writings — all such comments focused on the impact that his quitting would have on the reader.

What was disgusting was the fact that — without exception — every such comment used the word “ministry” to describe his blogging. Now, while I have no doubt that his writing ministers to others and could legitimately be called ministry, that word is not some magic talisman. Just because you do an activity that ministers to others does not obligate you to continue to do that activity in perpetuity.  Yet this was exactly how the word was employed every time.

I love my pastor and I hope that I have the opportunity to sit under his teaching and leadership for years to come. But if God told him tomorrow that he was supposed to go back into cabinet-making, and he rejected this idea because he is ministering to a lot of people as a pastor, I would be sorely disappointed in him.

Colossians 3:23-24 tells us:

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

While the context is addressing slaves, the applicability of this truth is universal. The bumper sticker may be a tad cheesy, but it’s true, nonetheless: my boss is a Jewish carpenter. The Christian’s obligation is to the Lord in all of his efforts, including ministry.


* That’s not actually his name, but my post is about an issue, not a person, and (unfortunately) many of Gary’s “fans” are not capable of the distinction. In the event that one of them stumbles across this, I’d prefer that the issue be weighed by its own merits.

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I recently sat in a church that spends more money on its Christmas and Easter programs than it does on its benevolence fund. I know because they are kind enough to post that information publicly.

Five Thousand dollars a year for the poor. Almost twice that for productions. The sermon was full of the easy to hit sins, cute phrases and “rah rah, go team!” rants. Diversity didn’t seem to be a major concern to the congregation or the pastor. It was like being transported back to the early 90’s.  The alliteration of his points was flawless. Seriously, almost every point started with a D, including the sub points. From one perspective, it was simply amazing. Eighteen Christmas trees adorned their stage.

It actually occurred to me that I could be attending a convention of retired CIA agents. Three piece suits, long rain overcoats.

The church was about conservative exclusion. Keep the other kids out of the sandbox so to speak.

I also sat in another church recently. This one went the other way. Invite everyone. Put a ton into the production of the show. Change sharing your faith to inviting people to church. Play with the lights to match the beat of the music. Dim the lights, pump dry ice through the air. Do a rah rah message. By rah rah, I mean read one maybe two verses, and then talk for forty minutes about things that have nothing to do with the verses read.

Lament the fallen state of mankind and the world. The sermon was a mix of self-praise for the preacher, his family and a group therapy session. As a therapist, I know a little bit about group therapy. Just sit in the people’s misery.

Never actually offer real hope. How does one move out of their crap?

I’m afraid we’ve lost our way.

We think we need to protect the message.

We think we need to make the message a show. We need to drum up excitement for it. We offer things that are never promised in the Text. (Those will be a different post).

We have lost our way.

The message is simple. And it’s amazing. Here it is:

God wants to have a personal relationship with you. The God of the universe wants to walk through life with you. He wants to offer you the best way way to live. That’s it. Love God, and love people.

We don’t need to make it better. It doesn’t need to be “made better.” It just needs to be repeated in words and in deeds.

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(with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, for riffing off his meme)

If you automatically assume that someone honoring another person in stained glass is venerating them and conferring sainthood on them, youuuuuuu might be a Roman Catholic.

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