Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Because Its What You Are Supposed To Do..."

The last few weeks I have been leading a membership (and membership renewal) class in my church. We have a significant number of people participating in this. I have enjoyed engaging people in basic topics of Christianity, things that we assume "churched people" already know, but most have forgotten about.

Last week we were talking about worship. Someone commented on how she brought her son to church every week when he was a child, however when he left home he hardly ever went to church.

This is not an unfamiliar sentiment. I hear it all the time actually. So instead of just letting it slide for the millionth time I decided to engage this woman.

"So did your parents take you to church every Sunday?" I asked her.

"Of course." She responded.

"So why," I returned, "did you continue to go to church when you left home?"

Her voice raised in exasperation said, "Because that is what you are supposed to do! On Sunday morning you are supposed to go to church!"

The problem with this logic is that its outdated. Society no longer deems it necessary for one to go to church on Sunday morning for you to be a good citizen. So, the question then becomes, why should that grown up child choose to spend an hour of his week listening to a sermon and singing old hymns when this is no longer "what you are supposed to do"?

You see the church lost its heart and soul in the first half of the 20th Century. Church became "popular" and people did just come to church because that was what everyone else was doing. We no longer had a common goal in mind.

For the church's part we lost the desire to evangelize, to GO and make disciples because the people were coming to us. Instead we started to build agencies like the federal government. We thought our primary mission was to have a national voice for justice. However, the idea of converting souls to Jesus Christ was left in the dust because our numbers were just naturally growing.

Not only did we build agencies at this time but we also built onto our churches making gloriously large facilities. While they served us for an age, we are now saddled with the burden of trying to maintain these facilities whilst we are no longer popular. This also steps into the way of our goals creating a barrier in our way.

Yes, social justice is very important, but it should be an outgrowth of the Great Commission, not a precursor to it. People because they have been made disciples should then move to speak out about injustice and oppression in our world.

Maybe I am just another Gen X'er. But I want to be part of an organization that has a mission of changing lives. I want to be a part of an organization that is having eternal impact, not just temporal. As a Gen X pastor I hear the words of the Great Commission and I cannot do anything but wonder why this is not the standard for our churches. If an activity doesn't help fulfill that goal, then we shouldn't be about that activity.

So today, I commit myself again to an organization that is not popular (THANK GOD!). I commit to being the nerd, the geek, the prude, the sissy, the dork, the dweeb, the Jesus Freak, because that is what Jesus asked me to do. He didn't say, "Go be popular!" He said, "Go make disciples!"

Anyone out there care to join me?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Calming the Storm

"How could it get any worse?" She sat at the table crying. Too much had happened in too little time for her mind to handle it all. Two weeks ago Ali had been doing home work in her room. She was deep into Algebra 2 formulas and she heard a knock at her door. She looked up and her father had entered the room. 

"Ali, we need to talk," her father said. "Your mom and I have come to a decision and I thought you should know." Ali sat with her dad over the next few minutes as he explained that her mom was leaving and they were getting divorced. Her mom had been seeing someone else and decided that she no longer wanted to remain in the marriage. Ali's mind was filled with questions about her own security and how all this happened without her even knowing. She wondered if she had done something to make her mom want to leave, but knew better than that. As the next few days set in, anger filled Ali's heart and she was determined that she didn't ever want to even see her mother again. She felt so bad for her father who sat sullen and distant. 

A few days later she arrived late at school and as she walked in noticed that the energy in the building was different. She made her way to the office and while she was checking in she noticed two teachers consoling one another. "What were they so upset about?" Ali wondered to herself.  

She moved to the her first period classroom and students were huddled in groups, some sobbing loudly. The teacher seemed to be moving in between the groups, helping to calm students. 

"What is going on?" said Ali to Josh as she sat down beside him. 

Josh looked at her and said, "What do you mean? You don't know? I thought that was why you were late?" He paused, "Kristina was killed last night in a car crash. I'm so sorry." 

Ali thought she had heard him wrong, so she just stared at him and said, "What?" Kristina was Ali's best friend. They had been through everything together. They had just talked on the phone last night about her parent's divorce. They had made a pact to stick through it together. "This isn't really happening," Ali thought. The room started to spin around her. She went to stand up, but the room went black. The next thing she knew she lying on a couch in the nurses office. 

Her father walked into the room. "Lets go home Ali. I think you've had enough for today." The rest of the day she spent in bed or crying on her dad's shoulder. "How could this all be happening? I don't understand." Ali said to her dad. 

"Sometimes we just don't know, but we have to keep going," her father said.

"I don't know if I can, "she replied. 

The next few days were spent in mourning her friend. Ali decided that she would always take time to remember her friend each day. She felt Kristina's presence near her sometimes. She couldn't explain it, but it brought her peace. 

Three days after the funeral the exhaustion caught up with Ali. She came home from school and fell sound asleep. In her sleep Kristina came to her begging her to wake up and get out. Ali heard Kristina scream and she shot up out of bed noticing that smoke alarms were going off in her house. She went to grab the door knob but the heat burned her hand. She grabbed a few pairs of clothes and jumped out of her window. She ran to her father's window just in time to see him coming out. They ran to their neighbors house to call 911 and they watched as flames engulfed the comfort, the memories, and the physical home that she had known her whole life. 

The neighbors invited them to stay with them for a while. The community pulled together for Ali and her dad and provided clothing for them. 

One morning Ali just sat at her neighbors kitchen table and sobbed, "How could all this be happening and so fast? I just don't understand. Its like a huge storm has come and waves keep rolling over the boat."

Ali's neighbor Judy sat down with her. She said, "You know Ali, we can't predict what life is going to give us and when. Do you know much about the stories of Jesus?"

"Not really, why?" Ali said. 

Judy said,"Because, there is this story about the disciples and Jesus being out on the water one night. Jesus was really tired and went to sleep. After he went to sleep the disciples noticed that a storm was starting to kick up. The storm got closer and closer and as it did the waves got higher and higher. The disciples got really nervous. They tried to find Jesus and no one had seen him for a while. The searched for him and found him lying down below deck sleeping peacefully. They shook him and tried to wake him up. He woke and asked them what was going on. They told him that a violent storm was coming and they feared the sea worthiness of the ship. Jesus went up to the deck and spoke to the wind and calmed the storm. The disciples looked at each other and said to one another, 'Who is this that he can even the winds and waves listen to his voice.'"

She continued, "As I was thinking about your life over the past few weeks, I just couldn't help but think about this story. I wonder if Jesus is sleeping on your ship somewhere? He sees all these horrible things that are happening and knows that it is going to be okay. I wonder if you need the help of someone whose voice calms the wind and waves." 


I think we have all had moments in our lives when we thought the waves of life might roll over us. So often we try to handle our lives circumstances by ourselves, but that only leads to feeling more overwhelmed. 

We all need the help of the one who can calm the waves and the wind. All we need do is invite him in. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What's An Evangelical To Do in 2012?

Each election year since I can remember (probably 1984 for me) I have watched the Evangelical Right in America galvanize for influencing the vote for the United States President. 

In 1980 Ronald Regan was a great choice for Evangelicals. Whether it was honest or not, Regan played right into the court with the right language and coming down on issues conservatively that were important to Evangelical Christians. 

In 1988 Bush Sr. seemed to be the obvious choice to carry on this legacy. He was comfortable and grandfatherly. He had the right mix of WWII heroics and American Christendom Traditionalism. 

In 1992 Conservatives could not pull it together for George Sr. and they went down as Clinton took the helm. For two terms we watched conservative policies that had been held strong for 12 years start to crumble. Issues like prayer in school, abstinence-only education, creation education, and traditional marriage support seemed to start to falter and be sifted out. 

Again galvanizing in 2000 with George W. Bush, the conservatives came out strong. I never believed that George W. Bush was just placating Conservative Christians, but I believe out of the many Republican presidents that had played the evangelical game, Bush Jr. actually agreed with evangelical Christianity. The issues that had previously been falling through the cracks seemed to come back in full force. Abstinence Education was encouraged from the White House. DOMA was put in place. Creator-based Education was given a defended place in many public schools. While gramatizationalism was not always Bush's strong point Evangelicals seemed to look the other way or just smile as you would at a child that doesn't know any better. 

The past four years, the ping pong has been tossed the other way. It looks like once again the issues that matter to Evangelicals are under attack. So what will be done this time around and with what integrity?

Most shocking in the past year is the Evangelical silence on the fundamental beliefs of Mitt Romney. I don't mean the talking points. He is doing quite well with Evangelicals on social matters. I am talking about what he believes about God - - supposedly the foundation of the Evangelical movement.

In case you have been hiding under a rock, let me inform you that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Now on the surface you should note that this means that Romney truly does believe in conservative social values.

The question comes as to what he believes about God and how that coincides with traditional Evangelical beliefs. Here are the 13 Articles of Faith that he does believe in as a Mormon... (my comments in read)

1.We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son,
Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
   While they do believe in the three persons of God, they DO NOT believe in the Doctrine of the Trinity of 3 Persons in 1 Godhead. 
2.We believe that men will be punished for their own
sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
   They do not believe in the Doctrine of Original Sin
3.We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all
mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
   They do not believe in salvation by faith alone, rather it is by obeying the laws of Scripture. 
4.We believe that the first principles and ordinances of
the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance;
third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of
hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
    For salvation there must be a physical baptism, not just believing in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 
5.We believe that a man must be called of God, by
prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to
preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6.We believe in the same organization that existed in the
Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists,
and so forth.
7.We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy,
revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
8.We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it
is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of
   They lay within their beliefs that the Bible is only correct as far as it is translated correctly (who exactly determines this?). They also believe that the Book of Mormon is equal to the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. 
9.We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does
now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important
things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
10.We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in
the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built
upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth;
and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
    How does this dogma settle with Evangelicals?
11.We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God
according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same
privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12.We believe in being subject to kings, presidents,
rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
13.We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent,
virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the
admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured
many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything
virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these
things. (http://mormon.org)

These are the thirteen articles of faith, but it doesn't stop there... Here is a commentary about their belief of the formation of God. 

Milton Hunter, member of the 1st Council of the Seventy,
echoed Smith’s claims; in his book Gospel Through the Ages, pg. 114 it
 “…if we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must accept the
fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is
how did He become glorified and exalted and attain His present status of
Godhead?....God undoubtedly took advantage of every opportunity to learn the
laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity He righteously
obeyed it”. Milton continued on with his theory by adding:
 “As He gained more
knowledge through persistent effort and continuous industry, as well as through
absolute obedience, His understanding of the universal laws continued to become
more complete. 
 Thus He grew in experience and continued to grow until He attained the
status of Godhood." 
So God wasn't always God? He had to achieve Godhood? I believe this stands in direct opposition to traditional Evangelical belief.

Another interesting belief is the woman's dependence on male to be saved and enter into eternal life...

     Mormon Apostle Erastus Snow preached this:
“Do the women, when they pray, remember their husbands? Do you uphold your husband before God as your lord? What!-my husband to be my lord? I ask, Can you get into the celestial kingdom without him? Have any of you been there? You will remember that you never go into the celestial kingdom (during the temple ceremony) without the aid of your husband. If you did, it was because your husband was away, and some one had to act proxy for him. No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p 291)

I guess I post all of this as awareness of who Mitt Romney really is. Will evangelicals forgo their faith traditions for heretical belief just so that the social standards are maintained or pulled back? 

I was shocked to hear several Evangelicals I know simply shrug off the fact that for years they have fought Mormonism as a cult and say, "Well... they really are great people." Its true I agree with you! Mormons are great people, but it seems contradictory to the Evangelical way to just allow them to remain in their Mormon beliefs just because they are "great people." 

I fully admit that I believe we don't have any good candidates, Republican or Democrat, for POTUS in 2012 (which completely boggles my mind.) But  I am shocked at how easily the Right Wing is just accepting someone who believes such unorthodox things. 

Where is the outrage? Where is the fear? For goodness sake. We were afraid to elect Kennedy because he was a Catholic and now we are going to back a Mormon?

Now, this is not how I feel, but rather the question I pose to Evangelicals. I am waiting for a good answer. What is an Evangelical to do in 2012? 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Finally We Know the Cause of Poverty!

David Barton asserts that if you read the bible you might not be on Welfare. 

David Barton
"Wouldn't it be interesting to do a study between those that are on welfare and see how much and how often they read the Bible. You know, if Booker T. Washington is right that Christianity and reading the Bible increases your desires and therefore your ability for hard work; if we take that as an axiom, does that mean that the people who are getting government assistance spend nearly no time in the Bible, therefore have no desire, and therefore no ability for hard work? I could go a lot of places with this. I would love to see this proven out in some kind of sociological study, but it makes perfect sense."

What is totally interesting about this is that if you did this I would be shocked if you found the results weren't actually the complete opposite. What we do know is that the denominations that are growing the fastest are the ones that typically are made up of the lowest economic classes. The thing is, either way, poverty's advance has no link to biblical reading. 

I'm tired of the Faith = Wealth gospel. Just because you believe in Jesus that will not get you out of poverty, nor will it get you the mansion or car that you've been salivating over.

Honestly Barton's assertion is offensive on so many levels. One has to wonder how many practices that he engages in alone that place other people in poverty. Does he support organizations that continue to take jobs away from Americans? How has he tried to help others rise from poverty, other than handing them a Bible?

And now to Barton... I know that you will never see this, nor would you care if you did, but I just wish you could truly place yourself in the shoes of someone who is in poverty. Its not always a choice or a product of laziness. Sometimes the way that people live... yes even you Barton, help to place people in situations where they have no choice. So, pull the silver spoon out of your mouth, spit out the caviar and apologize to the many Christians that you have offended!