Thursday, September 28, 2006

Desiring God National Conference

This is where I will be over the weekend I am pretty excited. Pray for my safety as I travel and spend time away from my family.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Consider It All Joy...

Mark Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. He planted the church over 10 years ago and God has seemingly done amazing things through Driscoll's ministry, establishing and growing a church to over 5000 people in the midst of an unapologetically godless city. Driscoll is the kind of pastor that most non-traditionalists love. He is witty, sarcastic, irreverent, and to use Driscoll's own terminology, "spooky smart". He has a heart for the church, is wildly conservative in this theology, and willing to say what most people, particularly pastors, are afraid to even think.

During a recent post on Driscoll's blog he laments the negative press that he and his church have recently received from two publications (, and I must confess that I was really suprised at Driscoll's response to the criticism. You'd probably have to be familiar with Driscoll to fully understand my perplextion, but I was surprised by what was noticeably absent in Driscoll's musings about the criticism received: a biblical response to what Driscoll and Mars Hill Church surely should have expected.

Driscoll says, "It does sadden me when I see cheap shots taken at our people because, in some ways, they are just getting some of the stray bullets that missed me. I'm sure we'll be here again soon and before long it will seem more normal. I guess I've been taking hits for so long that I'm more accustomed to it. This is one glimpse into the tough and sometimes darker side of the job that I wish I could shield my people from. In some ways, I must confess that I do bring it on myself because at times I do cross lines and I have not learned the art of subtlety."

This is why I am surprised. There is no biblical response, only an emotional one. While criticism stings and may even be warranted, it is also a cause for rejoicing. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). I found no cause for celebration or rejoicing in Driscoll's lament. And it is in times like these that we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves.

One of the reasons I admire Driscoll is because of his commitment to live out the Gospel within the context of his community. He challenges his people not to retreat from their culture, but rather to immerse in it and seek its redemption in Jesus. I think this is what Scripture calls us to do. "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (1Pet 2:11-12). I feel certain that if Driscoll were reading this verse it wouldn't be for the first time, and I am sure that he believes in its truth.

May we all be reminded that living for Jesus will bring a fair amount of reproach, judgment and scorn from the world, even from the likes of the Lauren Sadler's of the world that we will welcome into our homes with open arms, only to find that they are only scouring for the bullets with which to take aim at us. And in the moments where we find a bullseye on our back and people take cheap shots at us, let us remember that these trials are for our good, to make us perfect and complete and more like the Son Jesus who is the cause of our lives and object of our worship and adoration.

Monday, September 25, 2006

High-Def Church

One would have to be living in a vacuum to be unaware of the HD frenzy flooding the entertainment market. Literally thousands of consumers are spending high dollar on consoles that produce a digitally superior picture quality intended to provide the highest resolution viewing experience possible. The difference in cost between the normal viewing experience and the high-definition experience is not a small matter. A conventional standard-definition television begins as low as $150.00 depending on the size of the screen while the price bracket for high-def television sets reaches is well over $1000.00. The motivating factor for the consumer? Style over substance.

You may be asking, "What does this have to do with the church?" In a small way I believe the choice of style over substance is characteristic of the Western church - particularly the church in America. I believe that the primary contributing factors to the Western Church's adoration of style over substance are: 1) the pervasive influence of modern culture on the Church; 2) the rise and fall of modernity and the emergence of postmodern thought; and 3) the human folly of redefining the purpose of the Church.

Our Founding Fathers, though many were confessing believers, were weened intellectually during the age of Enlightenment. Her influence on our culure is undeniable, and the products, inventions and intellectual achievements of the Enlightenment have certainly contributed to the greatness and prosperity of our country. They have (products, inventions and intellectual achievements), over time, contributed equally to our spiritual degeneration.

J. Gresham Machen, who invested much of his life fighting against the numbing effects of modern culture in the Church, said: "Modern culture is a mighty force; it is either helpful to the gospel or else it is a deadly enemy of the gospel. For making it helpful neither wholesale denunciation nor wholesale acceptance is in place; careful discrimination is required, and such discrimination requires intellectual effort. Here lies the supreme duty of the modern church."

I doubt anyone would downplay the influence of modern culture. But where the Church often fails is in her ability to discern (Machen uses the word "discriminate") what is helpful and what is harmful. Some evangelical conservatives may bristle at this notion because, on the surface, it does appear that the Church is discriminating. For example, the recent resolution by the SBC against alcohol, on the surface, appears to be a discerning rejection of something (alcohol) that is widely accepted by modern culture. Or our more liberal "brothers" claim similar critical discernment with the vote of the Episcopal Church in America and the Presbyterian Church USA to allow for the ordination of homosexuals this past summer. This decision appears to be one where confessing (and I use that word loosely) followers of Jesus seemed to have been overwhelmed by the rising cultural tide of inclusive tolerance and acceptance of all "life-style" choices,. while failing to deal sufficiently with the Scriptures (one might even argue that the SBC did not wrestle thorougly with the Scriptures concerning some of their resolutions this summer either).

If Machen is right and the "supreme duty of the modern church" is cultivating the careful discrimination required to critically evaluate and withstand the influence of modern culture, and this ability hinges on "intellectual effort", then there is certainly a crisis of catastrophic proportions in the Western church. Why do I say this? Because many churches in America are not structured around, nor are members taught to think, critically about our culture. For example, taking the examples mentioned in the previous paragraph regarding the resolutions in the SBC, EPA and PCUSA this summer, how many confessing believers in the Western church would be able to offer a biblical, rational critique of whether or not the resolutions were actually consistent with the message of Scripture? I suspect that the percentage of members of the mentioned denominations who would be able to speak intelligently and biblically towards these issues would be small.

Am I saying that the majority of church members in the West are dumb? No. I'm saying that many of them are ignorant and unable to discriminate biblically about what is helpful and what is harmful to the church about modern culture because we don't often think intellectually in the Church. I've actually heard of pastors losing their jobs because their teaching challenged their people to think rather than spoon-feeding them biblical truth. If most Westerner's don't think intellectually, how do they think? I think the answer is one of the great influences and deceptions of modern culture. Western church members think like consumers. In other words, we think very little and respond only to what our appetites desire. While ignoring what Scripture says explicitly about the nature of the Church, we've embraced a mentality about the church that fits into the modern consumer-driven template by which we live life. This is what I mean when I say there is human folly in redefining the purpose of the Church.

Many people either choose a church or choose to leave a church based solely on whether or not the church offers or does not offer the kind of "product" desired (style of preaching, worship style, youth ministry, single adult ministry, senior adult ministry, children's ministry, etc). In far too many cases, the substance being offered in ministry is irrelevant. What matters most is style (is the pastor cool; how long are the sermons; what kind of environment is offered; chairs or pews; do they utilize media; is there an organ; can I park close to the sanctuary; do they have a nursey for Wed night services; etc). In other words, people don't often wonder if what is being taught at church is biblical (substance). They simply want it to be practical, easy, and require very little personal investment (time, resources, and physical/mental/relational engagement).

The purpose of the Church is not predominantly to meet the felt needs of the individual who, by faith in Jesus, has become a part of the body of Christ. The purpose of the Church is primarily about making and mobilizing disciples. It is true that we effectively make disciples by engaging the whole person, meeting them where they are and pointing them to Jesus by teaching them His Word in a way that they can understand. But sadly the Church has indiscriminantly carried this to an unhealthy degree, fostering a mentality that makes man the center of our ministry purposes rather than God. Yes, we make disciples; but we are called to do so using the biblical template, not a consumer-driven template. Unfortunately, while many pastors and leaders within the church know this to be true, they are frightened by the notion because biblically healthy churches are not often the largest churches. Churches that cater to the needs of the consumer often grow and grow big, while churches that try to honor the biblical template for the church often experience slow, though sometimes steady, growth. In a world where success is measured by size and Cheeburger Cheeburger tells us that "bigger is better", it isn't hard to see why so many churches are driven by a consumer mentality and approach to ministry.

This brings us to the final reason the Western church adores style over substance: the rise and fall of modernity and the emergence of postmodern thought. Modern culture hasn't fallen literally(that is obvious), and modern thought, to some degree, is still prevalent. Before we engage the influence of postmodern thought on the church, let me define modern thought briefly: 1) because of technological advances the past is of little value; 2) truth is always critically evaluated by reason; 3) pragmatism rules the day. What is true is that which is most useful and productive; 4) denial of supernatural; 5) individualism is valued. With this definition in mind you can see the fingerprints of modern thought all over the Western church. While these values are still very much present in our world, they are slowly being re-shaped by postmodern thought and ideologies.

Postmodern thought, at the risk of oversimplification, holds no single universal worldview. One's thinking, learning and beliefs are determined by their context. And there is no absolute truth because we can never be certain that what we believe to be true is true for all people, at all times, and in all places. It may be true for the one who believes it to be true, but that does not make it true for all. This is the worldview of the 21st century (though this is not to say that all modern thought is dead). One can easily see why the postmodern mind would be easily attracted to style over substance. Substance is often validated by concrete ideas or beliefs, but when one believes that truth is relative and ever-evolving, then substance no longer has any credence (at least not in terms of truth that is applicable to all people).

Without the "intellectual discrimination" wisely counseled by Machen, where does this leave the Western church? It leaves us with a High-Def experience. Church is sleek, cool, well-designed, attractive and suited to meet one's own desires and preferences. But without the broadcast of that which is biblical, true for all people, and transforming, it is nothing more than an asthetically pleasing, yet spiritually unsatisfying, over-hyped experience. that will leave us longing for a newer, sleeker model down the road.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Young, Restless and Reformed

If you have not read Collin Hansen's latest article in Christianity Today you should (

The Indecent, Malicious Explotation of Cotton

I love cotton t-shirts. There are few things better than the right textured, right fitting t-shirt. I bet that some of you have t-shirts in your wardrobe that you still wear that are more than a decade old. There are few things as comforting as a dependable, comfy t-shirt.

The t-shirt itself is meant to be benign. It is intended to be comfortable, and though fashionable, not too fashionable. Over the years t-shirts have evolved into a cultural phenomenon as marketers and designers have utilized the space as billboards for various products, slogans and themes. And let's admit - this is fine with us. We don't mind the explotation of being a walking billboard for the last band you saw in concert, your most recent church trip, or your favorite cereal or sports team. The slogans on the t-shirt are meant to be a means of identification with other people in our communities. They reveal a little bit about who we are. Sometimes the slogan or theme of a shirt might become or is strategically intended to be a conversation piece. But they aren't usually intended to draw too much provactive attention to the wearer.

In case you live in a bubble and haven't noticed, with the rise in popularity of t-shirts (it's hard to find a good t-shirt these days for less than $20), has come the escalation of indecency in the propoganda on the front of our favorite fashion items.

My experience yesterday at the gas station really brought this into focus for me. You can see many interesting things and people at your local gas station. As I pulled into the station I noticed two teenage boys. One was smoking while the other was pumping gas (isn't that nice. Smoking a cigarette around thousands of gallons of gasoline). The teenage boy who was inhaling cancer cells into his lungs went inside the store. I noticed as he came out of the store that he was talking to his father (I heard him call the man "Dad", so I assume that he was, in fact, his dad). He left the conversation with his Dad and headed back to his super-sheek red pick-up. As he walked by me I noticed his t-shirt. It said, "Hi. You'll do."

Disclaimer: At this point in the blog you are liable to read some things that may be disturbing and offensive. Consider yourself warned. If you won't want to be "disturbed" or "offended", please stop reading.

It's possible, if you are older and naive about the less than subtle generation emerging in our world, that you don't get the implication of the t-shirt. So if you don't "get it", it is meant to be overtly sexual. Sadly, more and more clothing retaliers are using our wonderful t-shirts for vulgar, suggestive and downright offensive purposes. Before I comment in more detail about the t-shirt above, allow me to share with you a few of the t-shirts I found online - shirts that are marketed and sold predominantly to 12-25 year olds.

  • "Vagitarian" - not, it is not a misspelling and it implies what you think it implies
  • "Amatuer Gynecologist"
  • "Your Little Princess is My Whore"
  • "Rub My Weiner" - includes pic of a weiner dog
  • "When in Doubt, Pull Out"
  • "Where's My Hose At?" - includes picture of a fireman; notice the play on words
  • "Trust Me, I'm a Doctor"

* There were several more that were even more explicit but I didn't see it as necessary to publish those.

Some of you are undoubtedly shocked. Others aren't suprised. Some may be deeply troubled while others likely snickered because you are used to this kind of explicit exposure and sexual suggestion in our culture.

This brings me back to the teenager at BP - the guy who endangered my life by smoking at a gas pump - and his t-shirt which said, "Hi. You'll Do." What does this kind of message say about attitude of men toward women in general? I know that many would argue that this is simply a crude joke. However, it think it is indicative of an increasing indifferent attitude among males toward the personhood of women. I recently read an article in which 1000 boys were surveyed regarding girls, dating and sex. More than 1/2 of the boys felt that if they spent a significant amount of money on a girl she was then obligated to express their gratitude in some kind of sexual way (it didn't specify what kind of sexual activity was expected, but even to suggest that a teenage girl is obligated to kiss a boy who takes her on a date is ludicrous). What is more shocking is that the boys felt that $10 was a significant amount of money. That's right. Many boys in today's society think our daughters should turn some kind of sexual trick for as little as $10.

What was this kid's t-shirt communicating to every girl who read it? I don't care about you. I don't care about your likes and dislikes. I don't care about your dreams. I'm not interested in conversation. I only care about me. I care about what I want and what I think I need right now. What I do care about is that you take your clothes off and let me think about me while I enjoy making me happy. That's right. You'll do because this isn't about you. It's about me.

You should find this troubling. We live in a culture where sex and sexuality is rapidly being reduced to nothing more than a physical workout void of any real emotion, commitment or concern for the well-being of the partner. Sex, in the 21st century, is about me. The world is saying, "I don't care about you. I care about me. Now give me what I want." This is real and it should frighten us all.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mega Church: Super-Size Me

I was linked to this post by my little hobbit friend David Rainer, so I've got to give him props. Satellite or mult-site churches are growing in popularity, and there is, in my estimation reason for concern. A blog by Thabiti Anyabwile pointedly addresses some of the primary concerns well here ( Thabiti's troubles regarding the idolization of well-known pastors and the potential stumbling block of pride in spreading a particular church's model for ministry are particularly insightful, but there is also a significant spiritual consideration for such "celebrity" pastors that must be addressed.

Consider Ed Young, Pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas who pastors over 18,000 individuals at the Grapevine campus, as well as over 5,000 more at several other satelite campuses, and whose church is planting another satelite church in Miami, Florida. Hebrews 13:17 issues this charge: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." How can Pastor Young faithfully be spiritually accountable for more than 23,000 individuals?

I realize that in this growing phenomenon of satelite churches that there are other pastors/elders in place to help bear the spiritual responsibility of the people. However, does a preaching/teaching pastor's responsibility end with his ability to properly exposite the word of God and teach it to his flock? Furthermore, what kind of relationship between pastor and congregant is necessary for a pastor to be able to effectively "preach the word...reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching..." (2Tim 4:2)? And is this kind of relationship even possible through the medium of technology and sitting underneath the word via video screen?

I suppose that some detractors of my questions would argue that I am simply underestimating the power of the Word. Surely it will go forth and accomplish it's purpose (Isaiah 55:11), regardless of the medium or messenger. This is not a truth that I would deny. However, is there not more to being a pastor and the guardian of people's spiritual lives that preaching via video, internet or radio to a satelite congregation? Is there something more to Paul's desire to visit and physically interact with all of his church plants in the New Testament than scratching an itch to travel?

There seem to be more questions than answers regarding multi-site churches, and in the end I can't escape the suspicion that this has more to do with human pride and pragmatism than it does the Kingdom. At what point do we draw the line on church size, realizing that bigger isn't always better, and it certainly makes it more difficult to stay healthy spiritually (the dynamic of more people and personalities equals more sin and opportunity for division)? At what point do we draw the line regarding the franchising of celebrity church pastors and take seriously the mandate to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12), realizing that doing so means that we are nurturing other believers to do what we might be able to do equally well as pastors?

In closing I have to agree with Thabiti. Satelite church franchising "runs the risk of confusing the messenger with the message and building a business empire upon them both." May the Church not be found guilty of constructing her own Tower of Babel.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Wisdom of Hitler?

Last Thursday the German police arrested Katharina Plett, mother of twelve. Want to guess why they arrested her? For homeschooling ( I'm not up-to-date on the status or acceptance of homeschooling around the globe, but what I found more shocking than a mother of twelve being arrested for homeschooling is the basis for the arrest in the first place. Homeschooling was declared illegal in Germany in Hitler! It would be interesting to probe into the reasoning behind the ban in 1938, but one would be inclined to assume that Hitler banned homeschooling in an effort to further indoctrinate young Germans with his propoganda. Unless there is some kind of measurable proof that indicates scholastic deficiences among home-educated children, the German government should move to overturn the ban of the maniacal dictator. What kind of world are we living in when a country still allows itself to be influenced by the legislation of a suspected mentally-ill mass murderer?

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Has anyone else noticed the global outrage from Muslims over the comments by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech this past Tuesday? What I find most interesting is not that Muslims around the world are outraged, nor that Pope Benedict XVI seems reluctant to apologize for implying that Muhammed only brought things that are "evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. "What I find compelling is the worldwide pressure being placed on the Pope to concede that his comments were inappropriate and demonstrated signs of intolerance towards Islam (even though the Pope has publicly stated that his quotation of an ancient Medievial dialogue is not representative of his personal views), as if an apology will end the enmity between Christians and Muslims.

But why the pressure from the media to apologize? Surely images like the emotionally charged one above offers some hint. The reality is that people, Westerners in particular, fear, not only radical Muslims, but all Muslims because of the extremists actions of a few within Islamic belief. Sadly, the concern from mainstream media isn't for the protection of Christians in places like the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who will likely innocently be subject to many days of violence and life-threatening attacks as a result of the outrage over the Pope's comments. The concern arises out of a fear within the gut of Western society that one day, one day we may so enrage Muslims around the world that the violence that is so common in the Middle East will one day spill over into our streets with increasing frequency.

This fear is only a trap set within the heart of man (Prov 29:25) that will drive many further and further away from the kingdom as they put their hopes in man to save and deliver us. What folly to think that appeasing the enemies of God will be our salvation in this transistory world! The day will come when western civilization as we know it begins to crumble. There are already cracks in the foundation. It will be over-run with man's fears - whether they are fears of terrorism, nuclear war, economic devastation or moral perversity that rules the day.

I don't know if the Pope should or should not apologize. I don't even know if the Pope has saving faith. What I do know is that there is a pervasive fear in the heart of man that can only be soothed by Jesus who offers eternal righteousness and salvation to all who believe that He is God in the flesh who took upon Himself the sins of man on the cross, died, was raised on the third day in power, and is seated at the right hand of His Father exercising authority over this terrified world. This is the hope for the end of hostility between Christian and Muslim. Only when man unites by faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation is there freedom from fear of all kinds.

Friday, September 01, 2006

1965: The Changing Moral and Religious Landscape

Many conservative Christians argue that America was once a Christian nation and it was the intent of our founding fathers that we be a Christian nation. And until 1965 it was easy to hold on to the nostalgic notion that America was a Christian nation because until that time America boasted a religious civility fueled by the dominance of Judeo-Christian values that solidified the framework and ideologies of the American lifestyle. Perhaps it could be argued that America, before 1965, was a "Christian" nation, inasmuch as the majority of Americans, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish (the "Big Three" dominated the religious scene in America until the 1960's), esteemed the kinds of values and morality advocated in Scripture.

But the "civil religion" that dominated American life until the 1960's began to form cracks in the foundation with the signing of the Immigration Act of 1965. This isn't to say that immigrants are to blame for the moral decline and decay of America. But what the Immigration Act of 1965 resulted in was a significant influx of religious diversity on American soil. Until 1965 the majority of immigrants allowed into the United States were European, who brought with them the same kind of religions and religious values that our founding fathers brought to America. But since the signing of the Immigration Act of 1965, the overwhelming majority of immigrants coming to the United States have not been European.

Statistics reveal that since the Immigration Act was passed, the Muslim population in America has grown from approximately 800,000 to a little over 4 million (and some studies show it as high at 8 million). In 2000 there were more than 1200 Islamic centers. During the same time Buddhists have grown from 30,000 to 2 1/2 million and Hindus from 100,000 to 1 million. There was a time where the Bible was the exclusive source for religion. But today it doesn't take more than a 5-minute tour of the "Religion" section at your local Barnes & Noble Bookstore to discover that there is limitless access to the religions of the world.

Whether or not the United States was or was ever intended to be a Christian nation from a historical perspective is debatable. It is virtually impossible to know the true intent of our forefathers. However, what is not up for debate is the reality that the United States of America is not now a Christian nation.David Wells, in his book Above All Earthly Powers says: "America is the world's most fully diverse nation now and from a Christian point of view it is as fully a mission field as any to which churches not are sending their missionaries."

Which leads us to a question: How is the church, particularly the traditional church of the "Christian" south, responding to the ever emerging mission field moving in next door in our safe, comfortable suburban neighborhoods? Are we responding as missionaries or are we still living with the naive, out-dated, pre-Immigration Act assumptions that everyone in our city loves Jesus and if they don't they will come to us if they want to know about Him? Is it really possible that everyone in the city we live in knows the Gospel and has heard it? Do we still blindly believe that people in our cities value the things that we value, and do we even care when we find out that they don't?

When you consider the modern decay and diversity of American culture, does it really surprise you that countries such as Korea, China and Brazil are sending missionaries to America for the sake of the Kingdom of God? It is time for the American Church to begin seeing their own towns and cities as the mission field that they are and develop a strategy to reach the perishing in our own backyard.