Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Just a friendly note...

To let you know that I'm on vacation this week.


Posting will be rare! :o)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Liberty of Conscience

I have seen this phrase thrown around quite a bit, in both Baptist and Presbyterian circles of which I have been a part of.

In some instances this phrase was invoked as a "leave me alone" when it came to teachings or certain practices in ecclesiastically and personally.

In other instances this phrase was ignored and "left alone" when it came to impositions of rules or standards a church or organization imposed on an individuals personal life.

Here is the Westminster Confession of Faith's take on it:
2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

3. They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, do practise any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.

4. And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church, they may lawfully be called to account

The London Baptist Confession has nearly identical wording.

I have a question
How far do we take Liberty, or Freedom of Conscience?

Reason being, if we have freedom of conscience, when is the appropriate time to step in when people invoke this "right"?

I am not speaking of something that is outright sinful, or forbidden in Scripture, but maybe a certain person teaches a doctrine that is sort of "stretching" the bounds of exetegical reason, and we kindy confront them about it and they invoke their freedom of conscience. Or suppose it comes to something as common as music preference, or even how long/short someone's shorts are.

How far do we take it?
How far do we allow it?

I posed this question to some friends on a message board and basically was met with an extremely keen observation that things are "ingrained" into the life of the American Church.

That is extremely insightful. We have relied so heavily on the experiences of the past 150 years in American Christianity that we have ignored what we say we believe in this area.
Sometimes the recent past is considered the 'way we've always done it' and not a thought is given to comparing practice to Scripture, or what we say we stand for in confessions.

I am not just writing this as a rant against the American Church's treatment of alcohol, which is only based on 120 years of tradition or so, but something deeper that touches us everyday.

If we claim to uphold liberty of conscience then that should effect how we treat those who do not agree with us, whether we are the ones invoking that liberty while someone else is looking down upon us, or vice versa.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Subtle Contrasts in Scripture

I am working on a sermon from Luke 14:1-14 and it is interesting to see the contrasts in that passage, even though they are not mentioned outright.

This passage comes in a series of events which are recorded that highlight what the Kingdom of God looks like from who is in the Kingdom to how the people in the Kingdom act.
This passage is a "how the people in the Kingdom act" passage.

1-5 contrasts the legalists view of the law versus how it should be interpreted.

7-11 contrasts Kingdom humility with Earthly (i am not making a spirit flesh dichotamy here) humiliation that comes from pride.

12-14 Contrasts Kingdom inclusion with Earthly exclusion.

Now, the contrasts are not there explicitely, but if you consider the context, they were there in the mind of those present and the first readers/listeners of this account.

Here Jesus is showing how the Kingdom of God operates on Earth and it goes against the cultural norms of the day (and even today's norms), and it goes against the natural selfish bent that we humans possess.

This passage blows me away and exposes so much in me and in the human condition.

1-5 We like to follow our rules. Bring our deeds to the table to show God why he should accept us.
6-11 We want to be first place.

12-14 We want to be loved by the "important" people of society, not the outcasts. We want to love those who are easier to love and can return our love with something beneficial to us.

1-5 God doesn't care about your good deeds, or the hedges you put around His Law.

6-11 Humility is honorable in the Kingdom. Realize you're not as good as you think you are.

12-14 Everyone is made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Treat the crippled, poor, lame and blind with honor. Remember you were a crippled, poor, lame and blind sinner until God brought you to His table and made you His child.

There's just so much good stuff there.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I'm being stalked!

This morning I took my truck to have the wheels aligned, and there were two Jeff Gordon cutouts advertising tires.

At lunch, Jen & I went to Arby's to eat, and there was a Jeff Gordon cutout advertising Pepsi.

After lunch, Jen & I went to Dairy Queen to eat ice cream, and there was a Jeff Gordon cutout advertising NASCAR.

Those are the only places I've been today.

If I see Jeff Gordon at UPS tonight, the apocalypse is upon us.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Warts and all

In one of the closing lectures I sat in last week for Ancient and Medieval Church History, Dr. Calhoun was discussing the idea of a "pure church" or pure line of churches one can claim in order to wash their hands clean of some of the bad actions, ideas, teachings, events which happened in the name of Christ, or the Church.
He said that it is basically a stretch to try and claim that one particular group is part of a pure line because it doesn't represent true history.
I began to think of the allure of being a member of a pure line of church history and it became obvious why it is so attractive.

To have such a claim means that you bring more to the table (metaphorically speaking) than everyone else.
You did better.

That sounds great if you believe that it takes more than just God's grace for God's approval, but it does not bear out that way.

The Church is made up of sinners who have been redeemed by God's grace, and sinners still sin.

I completed a timeline for this class. It was a powerpoint of 100 Important Dates in Ancient and Medieval Church History. I chose 99 pictures and 100 dates which were important in my estimation.
I completed this project in a few days, but while working on this project I saw names, events and movements of the history of all Christians.
It's our history and there are things I wish weren't there.
There has been brutal persecution of fellow Christians.
There has been needless war caused for material gain.
There have been, dare I say, attrocities commited in the name of Christ.

It's sad, but there is a problem with only focusing on the negative.
If you look, you can see the power of the Gospel piercing through the bad times in Church History.
When you read of the Crusades, you still are able to read of Francis who went to preach the Gospel to the Muslim shieks-with love.
There are countless other acts that we could talk about forever, but you still see the handiwork of God in history.

So in spite of the bad things, I'll take Church history warts and all because I believe that grace isn't about being 100% pure in linage, or practice....that cannot completely happen, (maybe close, but not all the way), but grace is about a Gospel transformation. God letting us sit at the table, not us bringing our best to the table.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The good old days

Last weekend my wife and I went to Kansas City, and while we were there we watched the Royals play the Oakland Athletics.
I wish I could say that it was a good game, but it wasn't, even if you are a diehard A's fan because the A's utterly destroyed the Royals. Seriously, I have never been to an MLB game which one team scored more that 10 runs, but in this one, the A's scored more than 15!

One thing I noticed about the Royals, and it is likely due to this being the 20th anniversary, but throughout the game the scoreboard video screen continually played clips of their World Series Victories FROM 1985! This was over and over and over, and many of the people whom you could classify as "real" Royals fans were wearing shirts that said "we believe". Here, the Royals are having another dismal season, they are losing game after game, and the impression I received was one of being stuck in the past.

Now, before you think I'm coming down hard on the Royals, I'm not. I think being stuck in the past, or, better put, longing for the "good old days" is a place where too many people spend their time.
I do it quite a bit, less each day, but I still miss certain things from my past: my old car, certain friendships, etc, but that's not the point. I shouldn't do that. It's not wrong to reminisce or think fondly of the past, but when it becomes a longing, then there's a problem.

We do this in the church too.
How many times in sermons, Christian talk shows, or conversations do we hear, "I wish it was like the 50s again when everything was better and people were more moral."
We do hear it, in fact, I heard it only a few months ago on a popular, national Christian broadcast that was talking about moral issues.
We bemoan the postmodern present and long for the past, even though things were not "better", they were less open.
The problem with focusing on the past is that we lose sight of the issues facing us at hand.
We lose sight of the opportunities and challenges that are right before our own eyes.
We even lose sight about how good things are now.
In America we have a tendancy to think that we are the only country that has an abundance of churches and Christian people.
We think that we should be the center of morality, etc. That's not a bad goal, but when we are focused on how much better things were in the 50s, or any decade in America, we don't see the good that is going in other places. Take for instance Africa. In the midst of severe Muslim persecution, poverty, and disease, people are turning to Christ alone for salvation in droves.
In China and South Korea, Christianity is spreading.
These are the good days because we have hope and are able to see the power of the Gospel.
Things here in the States do not come close to how "bad" they are in Africa or in Asia, yet the Church thrives and the Gospel continues.
Let's drop the love affair with the 1950s and take a look around and see that these are the good old days too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Reforming Youth Ministry

I recieved a link to this blog which is dedicated to the reforming of youth ministry. Since my post on Monday dealt with what I percieve as difficulties in youth ministry, as well as weaknesses in much of how youth ministry is "done" these days, this could be a useful resource.
It's actually written by a youth pastor, who probably has a better perspective than I do, since I'm an outsider.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What Green Day taught me about youth ministry


This weekend, I was inspired by Green Day. Now, that’s not the typical source people may claim for inspiration, especially seminarians, but alas, it happened.
Green Day is a band that I remember from my high school days of so long ago (my 10 years goes too fast!) and I have been surprised to see them gain popularity again, and this time it seems they are more popular than ever. I think the reason they resurfaced are because of their new found politically charged lyrics, and the fact that they returned to the sound and style which made them popular back when I was a lanky little 16 year old.

Now, how did they inspire me?

Well, we were in Kansas City this weekend and while we were driving through the downtown area seeing the sites, I, being the no-attention span man that I am, was flipping through the radio channels and the same Green Day song was on 3 times in the span of 10 minutes or so as we were driving. Granted, I did not make it in time to listen to the entire song, but we paused for a minute to listen to the chorus because I enjoy the vocals on the chorus (it’s their newest single, I cannot recall the name), so we listened to it.

Somehow I began thinking about youth ministry, which is something that I do not believe I am called to do in life, and I thought about how so many teens receive worldview messages from songs, whether it be by listening or watching. Then, I started thinking, “how would one combat specifics?” when it comes to the impressions and influences on today’s teens and not be shallow or hokey.

I really think that one of the opportunities and challenges of youth ministry is the battle for worldviews. Even if a youth group is made up of kids that are not educated at public schools, the battle is still there because the culture is media driven and no matter how much kids are protected/sheltered, it is inevitable that a teen will be somehow influenced by the current culture.

While mulling all of this over, I thought of several different types of youth ministries that I have seen. On one hand you have the youth ministry that ignores what is going on in the culture and is basically irrelevant to what the teens in the group are facing on a daily basis. There may be good doctrinal teaching, but the practical instruction isn’t there. Sex is a topic that’s rarely (if ever) covered. Things like music, drugs, certain types of movies, and alcohol are dealt with in a “hands off” manner so that they are either condemned or warned about in blanket statements, and not specifics.


Then on the other hand you have the “cool” youth group where the youth pastor plays the guitar, has bleached tips on his hair, and maybe an earring or two. This is where you “get Xtreme for Christ, man” and whatnot. There’s a more contemporary format of music, but it’s still shallow and not very good quality. The content is geared toward practical application, but there is no real clash of worldviews, only alternatives offered, like say, “you don’t need to listen to that, listen to Christian band X as an alternative”. There may be teaching on purity, alcohol, etc, but still no real meat for the kids to grow as they make the transition from high school to college to post-college. The kids are just left immature spiritually, and filled with cotton candy theology.
Now, I realize that I made some blanket generalizations of the two groups, but I really think that I’m not too far off. Many youth group kids are ill-equipped to handle the worldviews they are fed at school on TV and in music.

How can we fix it? (not an exhaustive list)

1. Good theology with real application. Instead of being “X-treme for Christ” or any other hokey gimmick, keep it Biblical and take the time to understand what teens are really going through. Don’t be general in application, get specific and relevant.

2. Watch, listen and learn. Watch some MTV or VH1, listen to current music, go to a “teen targeted” movie, and read a popular magazine or two. This isn’t for entertainment, it is for understanding. How much better would be it for a youth group if that youth pastor gave his talk for the week and contrasted, say, the specific message of a Green Day song with Biblical truth? What about that? Taking pieces of the entertainment driven culture and actually dealing with them head on with Truth. This also allows you to learn the language of teen culture and learn to communicate more effectively.

3. Build real community and accountability. Community is more than Christian Day at the local theme park, or the yearly youth camp. Have group outings that involve service activities, or discussion times. Create events and outings that have meaning and do more than just create something for the photoblog or scrapbook. By accountability, I don’t mean having the kids wear a purity ring, I mean discipleship where kids learn how to pray together, how to study the Bible together, how to grow together. They need more than just a Bible lesson once a week.

4. Eliminate isolation. Youth groups are part of the church, they are not separate from the church. Because of this, do not segregate them from other age groups in the church. I believe that teens should be worshipping with the congregation as a whole during the worship time because they are just as much the church, as the members who have been there for decades. If there is a separate time for youth activities, great, but make sure the teens are connected to the church and are involved in more than just the youth. Invite parents and older people in at times so they are involved. Keep them connected.

Those are my thoughts on this……and I suspect they are not complete, nor are they overarching, but I think they are things that I would want if my kids were teenagers.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Seeing people fade...

I have made many friendships with folks at the retirement center where I intern.
The hardest thing has been watching some of them become weaker and more sickly.
There is one particular man who is such a dear person. He is a WW2 vet, country boy type and loves listening to the Cardinals on the radio.
He can't really see anymore, everything is fuzzy.
But despite his health fading, he's at almost every worship service, and stays later to sing hymns while the piano is playing.
Yesterday, he wasn't at the Thursday morning service. I had not been at the RC in two weeks because of my morning class and a heavy schedule, so I am taking a few weeks off, sans pulpit filling.
I visited him in his room once the service was over, and he was weak, but still wanted me to read the Bible to him and tell him about the sermon.
We talked, we prayed, we smiled together.
I don't think he'll be around much longer, but I am glad that I was able to befriend him and learn from him. I will be sad for a while, but happy always to know that he's in the presence of the Lord.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Today

I don't normally post my schedule because so many blogs do that and I try to mix it up, but I feel I must justify this lame post...
I am in a compressed Church History class until the end of next week, I've been working on my research project, I had a headache for two days, and I've not been sleeping well. Oh, and today...I have to leave class 10 minutes early or so, drive to the retirement center to lead 11:30 worship and preach, then go to the surgeon to see about my knee. It's a 50-50 chance of either therapy or surgery. Lately, I've been hoping for the surgery to slow my life down a little bit and be able to see my wife more than an hour a day.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What an age!

I think today is one of the most interesting times technologically. Of course, I doubt anyone will dispute that in my comments, but anyway, I find it so fascinating how easy it is to get information, specifically sermons.

It has only been in the last 10 years or so, and mostly within the last 5, that the only way you could hear sermons without being at a church service was to watch one on TV, listen to one on the radio, or be on a CD/tape distribution list from a church.
Now, it's completely different.
In our technological time, we can go to a church's website and download sermons, prerecorded, or streaming live, on audio or video.
There are also sermon outlets such as aacradio.org, sermonaudio.com, or even subscribe to a podcast on iTunes. (podcasting really blows my mind away...it's automatic)

Now, what are some good and bad things about this?
Well, some good things. It's easier to listen to sermons and find good ones at that, and it also can help in sermon preparation to see how other pastors tackle a particular text. It is also handy because not all churches can afford to be on the radio, but using the internet is cost-effective and it helps people who may be thinking of attending as a potential member, or just on a vacation.

Some of the downsides are that it can be an obsession. I know from having my own website that I want to know how many people actually read my weblog. It's the only area where I actually keep track, but I can see myself wanting to check my church's website stats to see how many people clicked that "audio" page.
It can also be a means for bad churches to spread their false messages. By "bad" I mean churches who either do not teach the Gospel, or have a message that is legalistic, meaning keeping people focused on their performance for God's acceptance rather than Christ's performance. It can also be a recruiting tool for cults because it gives them an effective outlet to spread their message.

Now, the bad things aside, I do think that having sermons online is one of the best things in the world. I listen to sermons online and I know many others who do. I find it to be a beneficial resource and I think that the biggest thing is that the message of the Gospel that is being delivered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, could be heard by someone in Nigeria, or Russia.
That just blows my mind away.

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