Archive for September, 2008

Big Dog Little DogI find it interesting how the ODM’s love to find examples of Mega-churches “failing” in one way or another, and then using that “failure” to paint the entire movement with a brush so broad as to be unwieldable. In that light, I highly suspect that you won’t be reading about this study (or its rather high-profile publicity) or this study from those same purveyors of “truth” and “discernment”.

[NOTE: By bringing it up here, though, I would not be surprised if the study is linked/parsed/poo-poo'ed by the ODM's, just so as not to let good news go unwarped.]

From the Studies

Why won’t you hear about this?

Judge for yourself after reading the articles:

Ninety-two percent of megachurch members believe that hell “absolutely exists,” compared with just over three-quarters of small-church members, the survey found.

Because evangelical Christians are encouraged to share the Gospel with others, the Baylor researchers found that more than half of megachurch members said they shared their faith with strangers in the past month and more than 80 percent witness to friends — far more than those who attend small churches.

Researchers say that probably explains why four of 10 megachurch members say that at least half of their friends attend those congregations.

“None of the things we all believe about the megachurch is true,” said Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of the ISR.

Even with congregations of more than 1,000 members, the Baylor Religion Survey found that megachurches surprisingly are more intimate communities than small congregations of less than 100 members [...]. Megachurch growth is mostly due to their members, who tend to witness to their friends, bringing them into the group, and witness to strangers, much more often than members of small churches.

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Friends,

Today, for some strange reason, I suddenly remembered the joys of itunes. Thus I was able to download two complete albums from one of my all-time favorite bands: Petra. The two I downloaded: More Power to Ya and Captured in Time and Space. These are simply masterful records. I include here a couple of the lyric sets for your weekend worship and enjoyment.

Let Everything That Has Breath, Praise the Lord!

Words and music by Greg X. Volz

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord
Let every creature under God’s sun praise the Lord
Let all the mountains, let all the valleys
Let all the hillsides sing of His glory
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord

Israel had a war to fight but the Lord showed them the secret
He said the battle this day is mine, but you must listen how to do it
Put your singers first in front of the rest
Let them praise and sing to me
And you will see the salvation of your God
And watch your enemies flee

Paul and Silas were thrown in jail
For preaching the gospel of Christ
Though in chains they praised His name singing songs in the night
Just then an earthquake shook the place and the chains and the doors were loosened
Then the jailer ran in scared to death and that day he found salvation

Words and music by Bob Hartman
Disciple

Love flowing around me
A new found peace inside
I’ve made a decision
And now I’m satisfied
Jesus told me to follow
And to count the cost I’m willing to pay
I know I’m not worthy
And I know it’s not the easiest way

(Chorus)
I just want to be
I just want to be
I just want to be His disciple

I lived a delusion
With no one else to blame
I found a solution
When I called on His name
I may not have money or riches
But I found something better to be
To be a servant of Jesus
He means more than the world to me

The fields are ready for harvest
But the laborers are few
I just want to be where the Lord can use me
And work until the day is through

All of my life I’ve been searching
For the person who hides in me
I finally found someone
Who could make me who I want to be

I can’t wait to see Him
Just want to hear Him say
“Well done faithful servant
Enter into joy today.”

Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows

Another sleepy Sunday, safe within the walls
Outside a dying world in desperation calls
But no one hears the cries or knows what they’re about
The doors are locked within, or is it from without?
[Chorus]
Looking through rose colored stained glass windows
Never allowing the world to come in
Seeing no evil and feeling no pain
Making the light as it comes from within so dim… so dim
Out on your doorstep lay the masses in decay
Ignore them long enough, maybe they’ll go away
When you have so much, you think you have so much to lose
You think you have no lack, when you’re really destitute

Be blessed in the Lord!

jerry

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KissMark Driscoll has done it now.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mark, he’s the senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a church which has thrived – despite its unwillingness to alter the beliefs of the church to fit its culture – in a twenty-something, pagan culture in this ultra-liberal city. While I don’t necessarily agree with parts of Driscoll’s theology (**cough** Calvinist **cough**), I have often found his teaching, his energy, his bluntness, his steadfastness and his depth something to be admired.

But now he’s walked off the map, if parts of the Armchair Discernment Media are to be believed. (Granted, they like him from time-to-time when he makes statements about their favorite targets, but those times are few and far between.) One rabid critic of Driscoll is Steve Camp (yeah, the warmed-over Christian musician from the 80’s who jumped the shark on a Christian cruise ship years ago), and Mark has him hopping mad now.

Why?

Because Driscoll has started a series on The Song of Songs. More importantly, Mark decided NOT to teach SoS as allegory, but instead as it has been treated for eons by the Jewish church and by the early Christian church, prior to Origen. Mark decided to teach a series (to a church full of twenty- and thirty-somethings) about the Biblical view of sex and sexuality, and to use the book of the Bible that explicitly addresses this topic as something non-Puritanical.

So, just to get this straight – The same folks who will declare you a heretic if you view the opening poem of Genesis as allegorical or semi-allegorical will also go into fits of apoplexy if you exegete another Biblical book literally instead of allegorically. Then, just to complete the smackdown, they’ll give you a hundred-plus-year-old Victorian exegesis from Chuck Spurgeon. OOOoooohhh, that’ll show him!

In reality, the Song of Songs is a poem, attributed to Solomon, which describes the relationship between a man and a woman. In some ways, the SoS can be treated allegorically, as love between God and Israel and as love between Jesus and the church. However, parts of it cannot really be viewed as allegory. In reality, though, these were used by Jewish families, particularly the newly married, as a way to view their own new relationship (since many were in arranged marriages, and may or may not have known their spouses before marriage).

Historically, Jewish boys were forbidden to read from the SoS until after the age of accountability, age 13, because of some of the imagery there, so I don’t see any problem in Youth Pastors in avoiding this text for lessons. However, with all of the unhealthy views of sex in society today, is this really something that our adult Christians should be ignoring – or allegorizing away?

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Chris Rosebrough agrees that the best defense is a good offense.

Well, it does not get much more offensive than THIS.

HERE is the original.

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CarouselI recently read a comment disparaging slippery-slope arguments. In general, I would say I agree with such sentiment – primarily because predicting the angle, destination and path of the slope is often up to the random will of the writer.

One particular exception to this rule, I have always held, is in the realm of society’s treatment of life.

I remember, still rather vividly, having abortion explained to me back in 1980 (yes, I’m old) at a junior high speech meet, where I was to give an extemporaneous speech (30 minutes prep after receiving the topic) on the topic. I don’t recall a word I said, except for making a prediction that if, as a society, we were willing to kill off the most innocent of human beings – whose only crime was existing – that eugenics and euthanasia of the aged and infirm could not be far behind.

[Also, I had just watched Logan's Run on VHS, so I had sci-fi on my side as well. How can you lose with such backing? (OK - I'm pretty sure I didn't win the meet, but I got a "thanks for participating" ribbon.)]

All Is Not Well

All of this has come fast-forward to me in the last few weeks, as I’ve noticed a number of stories which seem to bear out the slippery slope of the devaluation of life. Some deal with those at the beginning of life:

1) Ever since Sarah Palin was introduced to much of America on August 29, there has been a good deal of discussion on her youngest child, Trig, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Since this time, I’ve become more acquainted with the statistics, which suggest that 80-90% of parents who know they have a Down’s child choose to abort that child. What I hadn’t expected was to hear a number of calls about how “irresponsible” and “selfish” it was for Palin to give birth to Trig – with one writer stating that “it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome”, and that bringing a Down’s child into the world just creates a drag on society

2) Last week, we learned that a number of Chinese milk producers have poisoned at least 10% of the milk supply and 14% of the formula supply by diluting the milk and supplementing it with melanine, which fools common analytical tests via the appearance of higher protein content. As a result, 6,000 babies have become ill with kidney stones (if you’ve ever had one of these – and I have – it’s one of the most painful things you will likely experience, aside from childbirth), with at least four dying. And here’s the rub – only children whose parents can afford additional medical care (in a socialist system, mind you – what’s up with that?) are being allowed to receive that care for their afflicted children.

3) Finally, there has been a renewal of the discussion around abortions which produce live births, taking what was already a political football and ratcheting up the stakes. Basically, the discussion seems to have forced many in the pro-abortion camp to treat abortion not as a “choice to terminate a pregnancy”, but as a “right to a dead baby“.

A Duty To Die

But at the other end of the life-scale, it seems that we’re entering Logan’s Run.

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There have been a number of posts on Slice about what I am calling the Wiccan Flight. The Christian Post claims that Harry Potter, Charmed and Sabrina the teenage Witch might somehow be responsible for this phenomenon. But, it is highly unlikely that someone watched Buffy and decided to become a wiccan priest. Just as it is unlikely for someone to start fighting crime after watching Batman. Changes like that are rooted in deeper places.

I found this quote quite telling “s our culture becomes more and more isolated and busy (and as real relationships are replaced by texting, IM, etc.), young people are starving for real relationships and true community, as well as for a powerful experience of faith.” Hmmm. Community, experiential faith, relationship based. Sounds alot like another growing movement that the ODMs equally hate.

When will these guys realize that people are done with programs, tradition for tradition sake, dry church services, music that is worshiped more than worshiped to, irrelevant teachings, politics over who can lead sunday school and what color the walls should be painted, and a once spiritual movement that looks more like a well oiled corporation (board room and all).

The World Has Changed.

People are looking for community, authentic faith, an encounter with the living God and a revolution that is going to change their soul. Unfortunately people are finding that the wiccan faith is much closer to that than First Baptist down the road. I hate to say it, but McLaren might have written more truth than not when he said everything must change. The question is, is Christianity willing to in order to reach my generation?

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Friends,

This past Sunday I preached from Isaiah 5:1-7. These are powerful verses and, to be sure, it is terribly difficult to miss their point. They speak of a people, Israel (Judah), specifically planted and given one task: To bear good fruit. And the vineyard God planted was given every possible advantage and ability to do just that. As we learn, however, ‘He went out to look for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress’ (2c, 4b, 7). God is looking! God has expectations! The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will he be disappointed with what he finds?

But there are more questions we must ask about this notion of fruit bearing–especially in light of the fact that Jesus practically repeated this song, this parable, verbatim in John 15. There is no doubt here that God is judging us: ‘I looked for good grapes, and it yielded only bad fruit.’ This is no different than what Jesus says in John 15: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.’ God is judging us; God is shaping us; God is making decisions about who is and is not worthy of continuing as a part of the vineyard. I wonder if we ever stop to consider that?

Sometimes, in my opinion, we get so caught up in our own judgments about who is and is not producing fruit that we fail to consider that God himself is making those decisions far in advance. I wonder if we trust God’s discernment in these matters or if we are more than convinced that He needs our help?

There are other questions, questions such as: Are we bearing fruit that is edible? I mean, if God finds it detestable, how do others find it; that is, the lost? Are we starving the world because the fruit we produce is worthless? Are we bearing fruit that is pleasing to God first? Are we bearing fruit in keeping with God’s character (righteousness, justice, love)? Are we bearing fruit at all?

Assuming we are bearing fruit, do we stop to consider that God himself is not unaware of our vintage, that he makes the ultimate and, presumably, the only judgment about its quality that matters? I mean, if God is the one who prunes and pares the branches, well, does that mean that only his judgment ultimately matters? Does God need additional fruit inspectors? Or do you think that God’s judgment is sufficient?

So, if God himself has defined the nature of the fruit we are to bear (good & righteousness & justice [Isaiah]; love & lasting [John]), and told us how we are to do so (by remaining in Jesus), and told us for what purpose we are to do it (bring glory to God, John 15:8), and told us that by doing so we demonstrate conclusively to whom we belong (Jesus, John 15:8), then are we, the body of Christ, doing that very thing: Producing fruit in accordance with our call? (John 15:16). Are we producing fruit that is pleasing first to God? Or are we producing bad grapes, a wasted crop, a poor vintage, a harvest worthy of only the fire?

I see this as a serious issue in the church because, as I pointed out in my other post, people are dying and being killed and killing themselves while the church is playing games. Sometimes I think we spend more time inspecting fruit than we do actually producing it. Am I the only one who sees that as a serious, serious problem?

Always For God’s Glory!

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Friends,

This will be the first in a series of posts here at CRN.info designed with one purpose in mind: to learn to listen to others. I realize that the nature of this post is fraught with all sorts of dangers, so I will offer a few ‘rules’ before I begin. First, we (whoever contributes to the series) will be using the music, poetry, art, and more from the so-called secular world. I have discussed this with the other writers here and we agree that this can be perceived the wrong way and we are prepared for such an eventualities and criticisms that may come along with such a series of posts. We want to take a chance here that perhaps there is someone in the blog world who may be crying out the same things. We want, in part, to be a voice in the wilderness.

Second, the purpose of this conversation is NOT, under any circumstances, to discuss the salvation one way or another of the author of the work in question. The work we discuss is necessarily ’secular’ and many times the authors of the work have made decisive decisions against Christ, although not entirely closing the proverbial door. The purpose here, however, is to listen to what they are saying and to discuss what they are saying. This means you will have to read the lyrics (or stare at the art or whatever) and watch the video to get the full effect of their words.

Third, a serious aspect of this series of posts is to, hopefully, develop some evangelistic ’strategies.’ I know it’s not nearly that simple, and perhaps it is a bit naive to assume that simply by listening we can learn about how to approach the lost. But the series was prompted by a post at imonk where the monkish one asked:

Is there really a God-shaped void as Augustine described? What if we listened to what atheists said about themselves? Could we still evangelize, or must they buy our assumptions first?

This is a serious series of posts. I am not being smart, sarcastic, cliche, biased, trivial or anything else like that. I want to listen–to the artist, to you, to those who might be unbelievers who visit. What are they saying about their reasons for rejecting Christ? How can we, by listening, pray properly, witness compassionately and graciously, and work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit? We are not necessarily endorsing these lyrics, or these points of view. We are listening. I read just yesterday a blog, in the comments section the author wrote:  “Maybe you could be more equipped to help your friends if you stopped sympathizing with them and started giving them God’s truth”; as if one is in complete opposition to the other! Isn’t God’s truth the very essence of compassion? But if we never come along side those who suffer, how will they ever know there is hope? Will they listen to me expound Romans 1 if they have not first seen me demonstrate John 13? Will they care if I love God if I haven’t first demonstrated that I love them?

Fourth, while the monk uses the word ‘atheists’ to describe a general group of people, I am not. As was pointed out to me in preliminary conversations, not all those who are not-Christians happen to be hard-core Richard Dawkins type atheists. Many actually believe in God and say as much through their art. What I am hoping we can do is listen to their cry–and a cry it is.

Here’s how the posts will be set up: 1. A video or art selection will be posted. 2. Lyrics will follow. 3. A few brief questions or observations or history will follow to spur on conversation. 4. Conversation. Feel free to comment on the lyrics or help interpret the piece in question. Then let’s discuss what is happening. The only thing we ask is that you please stay on topic.

One of the best things, relatively speaking, to happen in recent years was the so-called ‘grunge’ movement that had its origins in Seattle, Washington with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. The first installment of this series of posts features Alice in Chains and a song titled “Down in a Hole.”  Here’s how Layne Staley’s life ended:  ”After a decade battling drug addiction, Layne Staley was found dead in his condominium on April 19, 2002. An autopsy revealed Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine 14 days previously. In his last interview, which was given months before his death, Staley admitted, “I know I’m near death, I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way.”

From MTV’s Unplugged series, this version of the song features Layne and Jerry Cantrell (guitar) singing the song. The latter, which has since, evidently, become unavailable at youtube (you may still be able to view it at youtube) is the MTV version of the song. At the end of the MTV version (not shown) you can see the following words flash across the screen: “This facility Cannot Accept Dirt.” Remember that.

YouTube Preview Image

Bury me softly in this womb
I give this part of me for you
Sand rains down and here I sit
Holding rare flowers
In a tomb…in bloom

Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved
See my heart I decorate it like a grave
You don’t understand who they
Thought I was supposed to be
Look at me now a man
Who wont let himself be

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small
Down in a hole, losin’ my soul
I’d like to fly,
But my wings have been so denied

Down in a hole and they’ve put all
The stones in their place
I’ve eaten the sun so my tongue
Has been burned of the taste
I have been guilty
Of kicking myself in the teeth
I will speak no more
Of my feelings beneath

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small
Down in a hole, losin’ my soul
I’d like to fly but my
Wings have been so denied

Bury me softly in this womb
Oh I want to be inside of you
I give this part of me for you
Oh I want to be inside of you
Sand rains down and here I sit
Holding rare flowers (oh I want to be inside of you)
In a tomb…in bloom
Oh I want to be inside…

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small
Down in a hole, losin’ my soul
Down in a hole, feelin’ so small
Down in a hole, outta control
Id like to fly but my
Wings have been so denied

____________________

I’ve had this on the burner for a while. I’ve been trying to find a way to post it, an appropriate time, during an appropriate breath. Let me tell you briefly, what it was that prompted me to think that now is the right time. I received an email from my mom last night. This past week another of my school-mates from my hometown committed suicide. That is two in the last two weeks, 3 in the last six months. 3 men, two still in their thirties, one just barely in his forties. A couple with children. All three someone’s son. All three men made in God’s image, men for whom Christ died, men who are now gone without any hope of recovery in this world.

My mom and dad also visited last weekend. We spent some time talking about my home congregation. Turns out that for quite some time now the church has been bleeding members. You know why? Well, it seems there is an ongoing feud between one ’side’ of the aisle that is in favor of women serving in traditionally male roles (deacons, servers, etc.; please do not bring up the role of women in the church as that is not what this post is about) and the other ’side’ that is vehemently opposed to it. Many of those who are opposed to this happening have simply, quietly left the church; likely not to return. Those in favor continue to press their point; the church is dying.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, men who are my age, men I grew up with, are killing themselves–the most recent, Scott, shot himself. Meanwhile, there are men (and I’m sure many women too) who hum along with Layne Staley: “Down in a hole…feeling so small…down in a hole…losing my soul…” because they have no other thoughts inside of them. They are people, men and women and children who truly believe they cannot be saved; that there is simply no hope. Hopelessly sad.

I have to be honest, I am sick of this. I am sick of people having no hope, not hearing or seeing compassion, feeling and believing themselves to be so unloved that their only recourse is death. Are we willing to listen to what the lost are saying? Are we willing to come alongside and suffer with them? Are we willing to be Christ incarnate to them? Or are we so thrilled with our own salvation that we have neglected the weightier things of the law?

How long do you think the church will continue to fight and argue and destroy itself while people continue to take their own lives? Are we willing to listen? Are we hearing what their are saying? I invite you into this conversation: How can we help men, women, children, who are feeling this exact same way, the way Staley sang of? Maybe the church can again become a place where trash is accepted.

3 of my friends are now dead. They are gone. Lost. 3.

jerry

PS–I realize I’m running some risk posting such thoughts, but please bear in mind that I’m asking for us to simply listen. Future posts will likely be shorter because they won’t need all the introductory rules and explanations.

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O Come All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, ye lovers come sing
A cry from the mountains, a call to come worship your coming King
Come praise Him with music and honor Him with dance
Behold He comes quickly and He carries His reward in His hands

Hallelujah, and let every creature sing hallelujah
Hallelujah

And build Him a highway on the music of your praise
For the Light of the True Morning
Pierced through the darkness His golden rays
Sound loud all you trumpets, a call to all men
To come to His temple and with solemn reverence to worship Him

Hallelujah, let every creature sing hallelujah

And go to the city and sing out the song
For the walls of the temple will be shaken
And the music will transcend the concrete and the chrome
And the minds of the children will waken

Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will to men!
Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and then

You shall be led forth in peace
The trees of the field will clap their hands
To the tune that the mountain sings

Instead of the nettle will be the fir tree
Instead of a briar a myrtle will be
And this shall be as a memorial to our God
A sign everlasting that won’t be cut off

Hallelujah

O come, all ye faithful, ye lovers come sing
A cry from the mountains, and a call to come worship your coming King
Sound loud all you trumpets, a call to all men
To come to His temple and with solemn reverence to worship Him

Hallelujah, and let every creature sing hallelujah
Hallelujah

-Rich Mullins (October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997)

 
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“…in recent decades many Christians have responded to the moral and social decline in American society by embracing political activism.  Believers are running for office in growing numbers; churches are organizing voter registration; public policy groups are proliverating; scores of Christian publications and radio programs offer commentary on public affairs.  This heightened activism has yielded good results in many areas of public life, yet the impact remains far less than most had hoped.  Why?  Because evangelicals often put all their eggs in one basket: They leaped into political activism as the quickest, surest way to make a difference in the public arena–failing to realize that politics tends to reflect culture, not the other way around.” Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth. 18 (Emphasis mine.)

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