Friday, August 30, 2013

Wilderness People: Christians in the Coming America

I had a favorite seminary professor of Old Testament studies that talked about "wilderness people." He was applying the wilderness journey of the Israelites to our journey of faith today in a secular and even pagan world. We are on a wilderness march across rough desert, dry and uninviting terrain. We have to watch out for spiritual "snakes" and poisonous insects. We need to be careful not be caught in the prickly thorns along the way. We may faint some days because of the heat of the sun and just about freeze due to the coldness of the night. Long marches and weary travelers are found in desert places. There may be an oasis now and then, and refreshment from God there, but we cannot stay in an oasis and cannot camp there forever. We still have to reach our Canaan.

I read two interesting articles today from Colson's Worldview Church Digest (Aug 30, 2013 edition). Both writers talk about the hard journey Christians in America have been and will be facing. About how this secular nation will steal away our religious heritage and freedoms and the choice will be to bow before the statue of state regulated anti-biblical sanctions and rules and laws or stand and be jailed or worse. (See NTYxMzk4NTc4NwS2&spJobID=86046258&spReportId=ODYwNDYyNTgS1). To pretend that the journey will be exciting and filled with joyous worship Sunday after Sunday is to go down a path that we need to not travel -- "I’ll say again, the moment we decide to go for excitement in every service, we have started down a troublesome path that leads to nowhere God’s people ought to be going." ( 86046258&spReportId=ODYwNDYyNTgS1). While these writers make some valid and troubling points, perhaps another view should be aired from one who generally agrees with their presuppositions and conclusions. One who agrees with their scenarios, but sees the journey a bit differently.

First, the Devil is not around every corner. There are not snakes in every step in the desert, and danger is not everywhere. I say this because there are some Christians who are either worry-warts, or extremists who see every day as a fight, every secular announcement as a cause to vilify and every non-Christian out to conquer and demolish their Christian values. This is simply not true. I know many value-centered non-Christians who may not attend church, certainly not mine, but do not disparage those who do. They actually agree with protecting our children in our neighborhoods, and have no trouble with invocations and prayer at secular-sponsored banquets, ballgames and get-togethers. Actually, they value them. They accept the prayers of thoroughly orthodox Christians even as we denounce their lifestyles in our churches and groups and classes.

Second, have we forgotten that though the desert is difficult, and the daily struggles are real, and the battles may set us back a bit, the victory is assured?!! Jesus Christ WILL come again, and whatever your eschatological viewpoint is, He will conquer because He already HAS conquered! The victory is assured. The kingdom of God will come. The new heavens and new earth will take place. In an interesting and convicting way, heavenly messengers admonished the first disciples to get to work even as they were watching Jesus ascend (Acts 1). Yes, they had to wait and pray for power from the Holy Spirit, and His timing, but victory was assured. The Church would stand the ravages of secular empires and self-proclaimed Nebuchadnezzars, and it would grow and blossom and prevail. It doesn't matter how persecuted it may become, it will not merely survive but outlast the enemy and prevail.

Third, we need to start giving God's people some hope and assurance, rather than continually sow seeds of doubt, despair and discouragement. I find too much of the modern evangelical press to be uninspiring and despair-driven. Sorry, but it's true. Too many blogs and articles and books have been recently written warning us and driving us to not journey far in the wilderness, lest we be embattled and even consumed. The modern evangelical Christian wants and needs some relief! While leaders talk about spiritual warfare tactics, many Christians in the pews want someone to tell them that there are oases, that refreshment can be found in the Lord and in His people, that not all is gloom and doom.

What I am calling for here is some balance. Balance between the messages of warning and caution with messages of hope and comfort and peace. Balance between the call for Christians to take up their spiritual swords and the call for Christians to build the walls of blessing around them. Balance between marching against whatever the next secular anti-Christian legislation may be and earnest, loving prayer for and not against the legislators.

There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. BUT you can help him to become thirsty enough to want to drink! Is our Christianity so attractive that my very secular neighbors are wanting to drink the Gospel, the Good News?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sermons, sermonettes, and true worship

In a recent Worldview Church Digest post by Albert Mohler, Jr, president of Souther Baptist Theological Seminary, he makes the case that the essence of true worship is expository preaching of the Word of God ( =84541713&spReportId=ODQ1NDE3MTMS1) He maintains that the contemporary focus on choruses on the one hand, or large choirs and musicians on the other, and the emphasis on musical presentation has clouded the true purpose of worship and the centrality of preaching. What has been lost, he says, is the robust preaching of the Word of God. He favorably quotes Michael Green: "This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes."

There is much in my training and background and theology that has me agreeing with Mohler. Key to my training and development as a pastor from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) was the centrality of the Word of God and the preaching and teaching of that Word. And though my horizons have broadened somewhat since those formative years, and my worship has become more "contemporary" by choice, I still default to exposition of the biblical text in sermons and teaching venues. Yes, I have had to "shorten" the messages and do more thematic or topical messages. But in agreeing theologically with Mohler, I have to give some reservations to his thesis.

First, much of expository preaching is insipid, dry, boring and lifeless. I have been to a lot of churches and conferences, and have listened to a lot of sermons and teaching sessions in my career. I have come away bored and unmoved and uninspired. While detractors would say this is my fault, I would rather protest and say, no, it's the speaker's fault. I listen closely, prayerfully seek to be engaged in the message, have a generally positive attitude about the presenter, and seek to make application to my own life from the messages. But I usually end up bored, unchanged and unmoved. Expositors simply need to preach better!! Especially in an information age where I can see and hear my choice of speakers and sermons and messages.

Second, expository preaching without life-changing application ceases to be what Jesus and the Apostles taught and illustrated and evidenced in their messages. They rebuked, confronted, encouraged, pleaded with, taught, used life illustrations and so forth in their deliveries. I am sure they were not monotone speakers who merely droned on and on and hoped the listeners would "get it." We need more life-changing application and life in general in expository messages.

Third, what can be said in forty-five or fifty minutes can often be said more succinctly and pointedly and with much more memorability in fifteen or twenty minutes. I realize the old adage that homiletics people would say that a presenter needs to make the same point over and over, at least three times, for it to stick. Well, I'm not at all sure about that in a computer and electronic driven age. Younger people used to short texts "get it" with much shorter presentations. And we have the means for them to download messages, interact electronically with sermons and use Facebook and other means to "get it."

Fourth, I maintain that a good message has one central point, not three or five or ten or twenty points. Because of decreasing attentions spans in our congregations, most can take home usually only one central theme or point. Sure, we can seek to apply that point and illustrate that point in a number of ways during the message, but when they leave the meeting, they should have one key and central point ringing in their minds and hearts.

Until our expositors learn how to exposit not merely theologically better, but make better presentations, the centrality of the sermon is in jeopardy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

LGBTQ College Offices: Diversity, Non-Discrimination or Something Else?

In a recent alumni college magazine I receive, a letter to the Editor referred to the newly created Office of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning) Services on the campus of my alma mater as "recognizing diversity among individuals. The office creates a space in which no one is ostracized, marginalized, sidelined or ignored." As a biblical evangelical and an alumnus, I would say "really?!!" On a fairness level, I would ask, Where is the Office of BEC? (Biblical, Evangelical Christianity) Interestingly, biblical evangelical students at the college have been made fun of in class settings (I have witnessed this), ignored by many, and simply not included in many decisions and so-called college progressivism. And this reflects a society today that sees biblical, evangelical people as narrow, bigoted, hateful, repressive and not worthy of respect, a hearing and an audience in planning and promoting.

I can hear my alma mater crying loudly against such an assessment. But I hear more voices there crying against letting these Christian students have a real voice in college affairs, plans and promotion. It has always been so, unfortunately. For all of our swagger, all of our so-called diversity planning and events, the biblically defined evangelical Christian is left behind. Or shuttled to the sidelines. Why? It's not an issue of intelligence, or sophistication, or liberal-arts savvy, or excellence inside and outside the classroom. It is for the simple reason that such people adhere to and proclaim absolute, God-centered truth that trumps all other definitions, all other rationale, all other man-made toleration variables. Where are the biblically defined voices in college forums and special events? Are there not scholars with such values and credentials that can be seen and heard in a liberal arts forum?

And, hence, the problem. For the biblical, evangelical Christian, "truth" is not negotiable. It is not decided by our post-modern proclivity to reading the text "our way." And, from Jesus' own command, the Christian is obligated and commanded to "make disciples" of all peoples--including self-proclaimed LGBTQ people. A thorough and fair examination of biblical texts speak directly against homosexuality and its outcomes. This was true in the ancient Israelite society as well as in the Apostle Paul's day and now in our own. That is interpreted as "hate speech" by a number of LGBTQ people, or simply ignored for the time being. But the biblical, evangelical Christian is under a "higher" authority than any university-related restrictions can ever stifle.

My alma mater has chosen to define "diversity" as inclusive of people they believe have been marginalized for too many years. I say again, "really?!!" What about the marginalization of biblical evangelicals? What about the slighting of biblical, evangelical scholars in the fields of biology and the other sciences? Is this not anti-diversity? It is a fundamental "religious" gut-choice of the university to ban or bar such professionals from interacting with and dialoguing with their students.

So, instead of diversity or non-discrimination, something else is going on. Whether consciously or unconsciously, there is a rejection of Judaeo-Christian moral standards going on. There is a rejection of biblically informed values going on. There is an intentional sidelining of what has been good and wholesome and morally innocent going on. The sad thing is this is not the college I recall or value anymore.