Reflections on Surfing Secularism, part I

A few days ago, I posted a link to an article by Dave Schmelzer, who used to pastor a Vineyard church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For those who have not read it, here is the link: http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/03/19/surfing-secularism-why-fighting-the-rest-of-the-world-is-a-losing-strategy-for-churches/31356.  The gist of Schmelzer’s piece is a call to leaders and congregants of the church in the United States to disengage from “us and them” rhetoric in favor of that which invites the secularist into a conversation about Jesus.

Schmelzer describes two broken ways that the church in the US has implemented to disastrous effect over the last three decades.  The first approach has to do with drawing lines in the sand over where one stands on matters of doctrine in relation to the secularist and the compromised church leader and/or churchgoer.  Schmelzer identifies both John Piper and Mark Driscoll as two pastors and authors most representative of this first approach.  The second approach that Schmelzer finds equally ineffective as the first has to do with making the Sunday worship experience more hip and not like your parents’ church.  Schmelzer sees this approach as infused with the short-lived megachurch and seeker sensitive strategies.

For Schmelzer, the best option for churches and its leaders is to focus on the message they preach (and try to live out) as being good news for all people, not just for church people.  He identifies three key presuppositions embraced by those churches and leaders who succeed in living out this approach: 1.) It’s not about “them.”  It’s about “us.”  (In fact, maybe there is no “them.”); 2.) It’s not about the trappings.  It’s about the offer; and 3.) Our culture does not equal God’s culture.  From here on out, I will be taking each presupposition in turn to analyze and critique its viability for framing the ministry approaches of churches and church leaders.

The first presupposition listed by Schmelzer that leads to successful culture surfing by churches is the attitude or posture that “It’s not about them.  It’s about us.  (In fact, maybe there is no them.).”  If I am understanding the heart of this point aright, then the church and its leaders must take care in how she expresses the truth about Jesus.  How I say something is every bit as important as what I say.  Do I speak the message in such a way that it seems like I’m against people rather than for them?  Another way to express this is to say “Earn the right to be heard before speaking up.”  The implication being that church leaders and its congregants need to maintain a humble posture.  I want to listen to who you are and the path that you have walked along up to this point.  It is inviting and non-confrontational.

Schmelzer makes a good point that drawing lines in the sand veers toward heresy hunting within the church, or shutting the doors to those on the outside.   He does not use those exact terms, but the ideas lurk in the subtext.  For Schmelzer, John Piper and Mark Driscoll are two influential, evangelical leaders guilty of line-drawing that alienates the outsider.  This is where a little dishonesty creeps into Schmelzer’s piece.  He does not waste any time or language in labeling these men as line drawers who create an us-them tension.  Unfortunately, Schmelzer errs in failing to list any specific examples from either Piper’s or Driscoll’s ministry.  It is true that Driscoll has a reputation that precedes himself with putting his foot in his mouth; however, professional courtesy demands that examples be provided to support one’s claim.

Schmelzer seems content with innuendo rather than being taken seriously in his critique, which impugns his own argument.  He falls prey to the very thing that he accuses Piper and Driscoll of doing: drawing lines by pointing out that this is what they do, but I go about it differently.  This sounds utterly childish at best and nearly slanderous at its worst.  For the sake of Christian charity, it is important to back up one’s claims with specifics, especially in a public forum like a blog.  No one reading Schmelzer’s piece will deny that humility or meekness is to characterize the church and its leaders’ interactions with the culture.   We are to be humble like our savior as the apostle Paul writes in Philippians chapter two.  It also means that as Jesus took up his own cross, we must take up ours, too.  It is the cost of discipleship.

One final note about Piper and Driscoll…both of these men have demonstrated faithful service to the Lord and his church.  Piper retired in 2013 after thirty-three years of gospel ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota.  Driscoll has redoubled his efforts of late to focus on the people and the city that he serves.  Neither of them are perfect, and in Driscoll’s case, he has opened himself up to attack.  Schmelzer has a stronger case with the Seattle pastor, but provide the examples.  It is one of the most basic rules of writing, and it is the most basic rule of engagement with one’s peers and opponents.  If one fails to adhere to this etiquette, then there is little reason to give attention to what one may say.  Tomorrow I will engage with Schmelzer’s second and third presuppositions for propriety’s sake.

 

 

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No Longer a Young Man

Given my current age of thirty-seven, the title of today’s post may cause some to roll their eyes.  I guess this line of thinking springs up from the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13:11.  In this verse, Paul talks about the maturity of one from a child to an adult in terms of growing in love, the gifts of the Spirit, and our future glorification as followers of Jesus.  I am not growing for growth’s sake.  There is an expected end or result due to the shaping and molding.

There is a time of instruction and development needed in order to engage as an adult.  Once that time passes, there is the doing or the applying of what one has learned.  Do I stop learning as an adult?  Am I free to disregard ways to improve or better who I am?  The answer to both of those questions is a solid no.  Learning continues even after I exist this present life.  Back to the main point, in my walk with Christ, the young adult stage is definitely past; however, I sense that the young man stage is a thing of the past, too.

1 Corinthians 13 is a marvelous chapter about containing and expressing God’s love.  It is a call to be and to do as an adult in Christ.  This is not age dependent, but it is dependent upon my trust and obedience to Christ.  The call is to grow in Christ, which is by the Spirit.  In my flesh, I can do things that seem like love.  In my flesh, the love comes out in false ways like manipulation and scheming.   I may have the Holy Spirit and one or two of his gifts, but I am selfish, impatient, rigid, and discontented.  The solution to some of this is to remain quiet.  Speak or act only when prompted by the Spirit.  This might require that I stay silent long enough to sense the Spirit nudging me.

The very next question that comes to mind is what does it look like to stay silent?  Practically, this might mean taking some time out of the day to be with the Lord.  Rather than blitzing through passage of the bible, it might be wiser to rest at one verse or even one word.  There might be a variety of ways to seek the Lord.  It does not mean descending into some form of mysticism.  The Psalms are rife with passages and verses that command and encourage seeking God.  Here’s a wonderful example in Psalm 119:10 —

“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.”

In this verse, the Psalmist expresses that he seeks after God with his whole heart.  Then, he petitions his God for the ability to obey or follow God’s commands.  I think it is appropriate to pray this verse or to rest on it verse as a practical exercise for seeking God.  If I am disobeying his word in specific ways, then it follows that I am not seeking him or his ways.  He will show me those specific things that I am doing for confession and repentance.  This process refines me and enables me to draw nearer to my Heavenly Father.  It also matures me into more of an adult before God and men.  Childish ways are childish ways no matter how safe, comfortable and familiar.

What I need is God and his word.  There is no substitute as a spiritual adult in Christ.  Because I reside in this body of death to quote the apostle Paul, I will always need the Father’s help to read his word and to apply his truths to my life.  My prayer sounds no different than the Psalmist’s: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18, ESV).  Unless the Spirit of God opens my eyes, the bible ceases to be a lifegiving account of following Christ.  Without the Spirit, God’s word comes off as a confusing historical creative work about an unknown being anthropomorphized into someone important.  Given that I have the Spirit of God dwelling within me, I can read and obey his word to maximum effect as his man.

 

Surfing the Culture

Surfing the Culture

One of my friends runs an intriguing blog called Two Handed Warriors.  Here’s the link: http://garydavidstratton.com/.  From time to time, I appreciate his approach to art and culture.  Last week, I found an intriguing article by a former pastor of a Vineyard church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His name is Dave Schmelzer.  He resigned from his pastoral role in the pursuit of God’s call through a broader stream.  The article that I’ve linked to is Schmelzer’s take on the Evangelical culture within the American church.  I think there are some intriguing nuggets within his piece, which is what led me to post this link.

Schmelzer represents a vocal contingent within the American ecclesiastical church, who have moved away from the local church in an effort to better engage with the surrounding culture.  Rob Bell and Donald Miller are two other names of ministers and authors who have done the same.  I will return tomorrow with a post that explores the implications of Schmelzer’s piece.  If I may be allowed to tease my readers and followers, then let me suggest that leaving the flock or the herd is not safe.  The apostle Peter writes in the fifth chapter of his first epistle that the enemy of every follower of Jesus prowls around like a roaring lion.  Given our Lord’s depiction of us as his sheep, those most in danger of being attacked are those who stray from the group.

I realize that I am using an analogy, which breaks down at some point.  In no way am I suggesting that Christ followers submit to undiscerning groupthink.  What I am saying is that our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, ESV).  He watches over his sheep and risks his life for them.  Jesus knows the safe places for his people.  He commissions us to proclaim him to a lost and dying world.  Does this mean that we launch out on our own?  I’ll explore this and other topics in tomorrow’s post analyzing Schmelzer’s piece.  Until then, have a great Friday night.

Size Matters Not

Three pastors discuss the implications of church growth as it relates to large congregations and small congregations. Mark Dever is the elder amongst the three as Kevin DeYoung (Reformed and Presbyterian) and Matt Chandler (Baptist) represent the younger generation of leaders within their respective denominations. There are some intriguing insights to be had in this sixteen minute clip. The most precious nugget is the call for pastors and their elders to be committed to preaching the gospel and discipleship. Much more could be said, but that is enough for the time being.

Everyday Married Life

Some things change and some things never change.  I recall this line of dialogue from The Matrix Reloaded, which had some good elements in a mass of narrative confusion.  It rings true in this moment in time.  I am no longer single, so this impacts my standing before the federal, state, and local governments.  My social status is now in a different realm than as a single man.  When I go home, there is another person to engage life with each evening.  Decisions must take into account my spouse.  She is first line so to speak; although, on the other hand, this line does not exist in any real or imagined way.  My wife is definitely first on my mind and in my heart out of all people on this earth.  She is second to our Lord, but she adopts the same mindset.  Much has changed in my life due to marriage.

If I am honest with myself, and this is something that I aspire to embrace daily, then I must confess that there exist things unchanged as a result of marriage.  My relationship with the Lord forms the core of my life and being.  I am still a morning person, who loves drinking tea to start the day.  Hiking is a definite passion of mine, which has intensified because of marriage.  The same is true with respect to writing. In fact, my wife kept hounding me to start a blog in order to write as we dated last year.  She saw this immense passion in me to use words and ideas as a means to share with others what God has shown me.  Her goal had been to light a fire in me to create the outlet for the water to flow rather than grow stagnant.  Thanks to her, the geyser has not stopped flowing.

I could have used other words in place of everyday such as mundane or ordinary.  The former is too pessimistic and the latter is too neutral.  Everyday seems to capture the truth of ordinary without an undue sense of neutrality while eschewing the pessimism of mundane.  Life is to be lived day to day, one step at a time.  In the sermon on the mount, Jesus commands the gathered and his disciples “…[to] not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34, ESV).  Here is the same scripture text from a different translation:

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34, NASB).

First off, volumes of books and journal articles have been published on the sermon on the mount.  Am I about to say anything new or fresh as this particular verse relates to the everyday happenings of a married man?  I am not so arrogant as to think or believe that about myself.  All I do know is that Matt. 6:34 popped into my mind as I considered what to write about for today’s post.  In many ways, this verse makes very little sense apart from the previous one.  Jesus exhorts the crowd and the disciples in the thirty-third verse about seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness.  Those two things are to be my top two priorities in all that I do and say; therefore, I am able to engage in life anxiety-free, worry-free.  It is a principle of following Christ, which is wholly counterintuitive to our human experience.

Is it possible for me live anxiety-free or worry-free in my everyday married life?  Given our Lord’s words in Matthew chapter six, I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  The issue comes down to knowing and trusting the character of my Lord.  It is clear throughout the entire sermon on the mount that Jesus knows the human experience and more importantly, the human condition.  The ongoing battle for the crowd and his disciples had been to place themselves in the second position while reinstating God in the first.  The only way anyone is ever capable of doing this with any degree of success is by virtue of being in Christ.  He is the way, the truth, and the life. This means that my wife is second to our Lord.  The minute I place her ahead of Christ, this begins the slow and steady rise of turmoil, anxiety, and worry.  Lord, help me to put you first above all people, places, and things.  Grant me an undivided heart and mind.

 

Loving Others

In our present day and age, there is a radical redefinition of love taking place.  No longer is it loving to approach a friend or relative for straying down the primrose path to destruction.  The current tide is let me alone, leave me to my own choices.  What standard do you base your judgment of me given your own humanness?  A response might sound like this…My love for you compels me to warn you about the path that you’re on and where it leads.  There is a better way, a truer way.  I want the best for you; however, I will not pester you, or bring this up again.  This will be the first and last time that I will ever speak about your unwise choices.  I respect you as a person to make your choices, but I neither support nor bless your lifestyle.

The above paragraph draws the ire of our society and culture.  Those words and the sentiments behind them are deemed hate speech.  Small business owners face lawsuits for expressing them.  It is my prayer that those private business owners wind up on the winning side of the law for the sake of liberty.  Of course, I allude to the wedding photographer, the baker, and the florist who each refused to support a same-sex wedding for their convictions toward Jesus and his word.  What happens to a culture and society when it becomes more loving to ignore rather than address the unwise choices of loved ones whether family, friends, coworkers, and more?  It is like being on a train heading for a ravine, but the bridge is out.  Someone you knew to be trustworthy had warned you about this fact.  You believed the information was true, and decided to exit the train before the ravine; however, you told others it was safe to remain on it when they asked you the reason for your urgent demeanor in getting off.

For my part, I could not remain silent being in the possession of such information.  This whole scenario brings to mind the following scripture text:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.  Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 3:17-21, ESV).”

Now, the context of the above passage has to do with Ezekiel being raised up as a prophet to the nation of Israel in the land of Judah. Because of Judah’s spiritual idolatry and adultery, there is a near future judgment coming upon the people and the land.  The Babylonian empire looms to the north, and this nation has its eye on Jerusalem.  By his grace and mercy, the Lord God Almighty tasked Ezekiel with warning the people of Judah about the coming judgment via this empire.  It is one thing to receive a prophetic word from God like Ezekiel.  It is something else entirely to have heard from God, and then turn a blind eye toward the surrounding culture and society.  God warned Ezekiel against disconnecting himself from the people of Judah.

Here is what encourages me about Ezekiel, but at first it will not seem encouraging at all.  The priests, leaders, and people of Judah refused to respond to God’s warnings through Ezekiel.  Babylon invaded and ransacked the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. including taking a remnant of the people into exile for seventy years.  Ezekiel was one of those exiles.  Because the prophet obeyed the Lord, Ezekiel’s life was spared by virtue of the exile.  How does going into exile preserve lives?  In this case, going into exile preserves Ezekiel’s life and the remnant of Judah because God ordained it (Jeremiah 29:4-7, ESV).  May I also submit to my readers that our Father in heaven preserves Ezekiel’s life in part due to obeying his Father’s word about warning the wicked and righteous.

When it comes to loving others, believers in Jesus within the church, must embrace the call to obey God’s word like Ezekiel.  Whatever happened to Ezekiel would happen to the people.  He served as an example, a sign, of the things to come (Ezekiel 4:1-3, ESV).  Each believer in Jesus is like a modern day Ezekiel.  The true church or the invisible church is a witness to the culture and society for the Lord.  We are not to disconnect ourselves from them with a hard heart.  We must speak God’s word to the surrounding culture and society.  We love others by obeying God’s word to warn them about their disobedience and the corresponding consequences.  Our Father’s warning to the prophet Ezekiel remains alive and well for all believers in the true church, the invisible church, of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He has promised to preserve our lives as we proclaim faithfully and truthfully his word.

Sunset in Tahiti

Sunset in Tahiti

I took this photo over two weeks ago during my honeymoon in Tahiti. When one is in the South Pacific for the first time, it is crucial to capture such a scene. I stood on the deck of our overwater bungelow suite on the island atoll called Tikehau. I’m so glad that I took this picture. Who knows when my wife and I will ever be able to return to French Polynesia.