For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spiritual Evaluation: Some Questions for Consideration

Dr. Donald Whitney has been a blessing to me for years, ever since I had a doctoral seminar with him at Midwestern Seminary.  Shortly after that, he moved on to Southern Seminary (I don’t think having me as a student prompted that in any way…I think).  There he developed an entire program focusing on Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, etc.

He has written several books which have stayed in regular use in my life.  He has a great little book on Family Worship, as well as the more well known texts on Spiritual Disciplines, both for individuals and for churches.  But one of my favorites is a short little work called Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  Written as a means of regularly evaluating some key areas in our lives, I have used this personally and with study groups over and over.

The “Ten Questions” idea has also prompted Dr. Whitney to compose a few lists for various occasions.  At his website, you can find list of ten questions to ask at Christmas and Easter gatherings, or at a class reunion, and even about a couple of controversial books.

Since this is the end of the year, I thought I would call your attention to the list of ten questions designed either for your birthday, or the end/beginning of the year.  We are all in the “evaluating” mood at this time of year, so this is a good time to evaluate your spiritual life/health and see if there are some areas that might need a little work.  Dr. Whitney has put these together as bulletin inserts, and they are copyrighted, but I hope he won’t mind me just listing some of the questions themselves. So here are the ten questions to consider as we end 2013 and look to 2014:

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time - waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Dr. Whitney’s bulletin insert goes on to include 21 more questions to dig deeper into some evaluation.  He suggests going over the whole list in one sitting, or maybe combing the 10 with the 21 to give you one question a day for the month.  Some of those further questions include things like:

11. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year?
14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?
18. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?
19. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?
20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?
21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?
28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?
31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

Check out the full list here, and while you’re at it, you may want to browse around the rest of Dr. Whitney’s site.  There is some good stuff there.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful as you think back over 2013 and look to see what God may be doing in your life in 2014.  But remember, this kind of evaluation isn’t limited to once a year.  Regular evaluation of our spiritual health is just as important, if not more so than regularly checking our physical health.  Here’s hoping you have a healthy new year. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Have a Mary Merry Christmas

Believe it or not, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was not a fan of Christmas.  He once said in an early sermon “I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred.” (#57, December 23, 1855)

However, he did go on to say that the recognition of our Lord’s Birth was certainly a worthwhile exercise.  And nearly a decade later he issued a call for the church to enter this season with a “merriness” that imitates that of Mary.  Here are his words preaching on the text from Luke 1:46-47, on December 25th, 1864

Observe…the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”

Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

And, yet, Spurgeon revealed his fear that many would not be focusing on this true joy during the holidays, and ends with a plea for God’s people to join Mary in her merry song.

There will be much music to-morrow which would not chime in with hers. There will be much mirth to-morrow, and much laughter, but I am afraid the most of it would not accord with Mary’s song. It will not be, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” We would not stop the play of the animal spirits in young or old; we would not abate one jot of your relish of the mercies of God, so long ‘as ye break not his command by wantonness, or drunkenness, or excess: but still, when you have had the most of this bodily exercise, it profiteth little, it is only the joy of the fleeting hour, and not the happiness of the spirit which abideth; and therefore Mary must sing alone, as far as you are concerned. The joy of the table is too low for Mary; the joy of the feast and the family grovels when compared with hers, But shall she sing alone? Certainly not, if this day any of us by simple trust in Jesus can take Christ to be our own. Does the Spirit of God this day lead thee to say, “I trust my soul on Jesus?”

My dear friend, then thou hast conceived Christ: after the mystical and best sense of that word, Christ Jesus is conceived in thy soul. Dost thou understand him as the sin-bearer, taking away transgression? Canst thou see him bleeding as the substitute for men? Dost thou accept him as such? Does thy faith put all her dependence upon what he did, upon what he is, upon what he does? Then Christ is conceived in thee, and thou mayest go thy way with all the joy that Mary knew; and I was half ready to say, with something more; for the natural conception of the Savior’s holy body was not one-tenth so meet a theme for congratulation as the spiritual conception of the holy Jesus within your heart when he shall be in you the hope of glory.

My dear friend, if Christ be thine, there is no song on earth too high, too holy for thee to sing; nay, there is no song which thrills from angelic lips, no note which thrills Archangel’s tongue in which thou mayest not join. Even this day, the holiest, the happiest, the most glorious of words, and thoughts, and emotions belong to thee. Use them! God help thee to enjoy them; and his be the praise, while thine is the comfort evermore. Amen.  (#606

And Amen.  May you like Mary, enjoy a truly Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Will Your Voice Be the Next Victim?

My last post ended with a plea to Christian folks everywhere to boldly proclaim the name of Christ.  Recent events have called into question how much longer we might be able to do that. 

By now everyone is aware the the A & E Network has "suspended" Phil Robertson, one of the stars of the cultural phenomenon "Duck Dynasty."  In a recent interview, Robertson was very plain spoken (a little too plain spoken for my taste) about his preference for heterosexual sex.  He went on to indicate that homosexuality is one of many sins our world has come to accept as it falls further from Biblical truth.

A&E's response was to suspend Robertson, emphatically saying that his views do not represent theirs and that they see themselves as "champions" for gay rights.  Now, I know nothing of the Robertson's contract with A&E.  Perhaps there is some clause which would have prohibited Mr. Robertson from expressing his views on this matter.  I doubt it.  They seem to let them say just about anything else.  But still....I don't know. 

What I do know is this.  Not only is this another case of the intolerance of the "tolerant" crowd, but it strikes at the very heart of America's once treasured Freedom of Speech.  Let me briefly look at each issue. 

First, the "tolerance" crowd.  I've mentioned here before some of the many examples of how those who cry for "tolerance" (i.e. liberals, homosexuals, etc.) are themselves the most intolerant when you disagree with their views.  The running logic is that we are to be tolerant of any and all views, except traditional Biblical values.  I shared here two very specific examples of Christians being targeting for abuse by pro-gay troops, with nary a mention by the national media.  Were the abuse the other way around, it would have resulted in war cries.  The message:  Christians keep your mouths shut!

Which brings me, second, to the Free Speech issue.  To be honest, I've long struggled with the issue.  It turns my stomach to see some of the things that have been protected by Free Speech down through the years.  People have been allowed to do and say the most offensive, horrific things.  Nazis are allowed to demonstrate on American streets.  Vile and profane and blasphemous lyrics are allowed to be recorded and broadcast all over.  On and on it goes.  The price we pray for allowing free speech.  But now...

Christians are finding themselves more and more on the receiving end of censorship and worse.  The intolerance of the "tolerant" crowd has taught us that free speech applies to all people except Christians.  Display artwork that blasphemes God, that's fine.  Dance in the streets in the most offensive ways to promote homosexuality, that's your right.  But express your opinion opposing homosexuality, oh no; lose your job.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put it best when he said, "It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

Of course, the liberal media goes along by promoting statements from noted Christian "experts" like the representative of a gay rights group who claimed Mr Robertson's views are in opposition to what "true Christians believe."  So that representative has the freedom to distort the teachings of Scripture, which clearly condemn homosexuality; as well as the teachings of the church, which have always condemned homosexuality; and even misrepresents what the majority of American Christians believe.  That's ok.  Freedom of speech, and the media will report his comments and act as if they are true.  A&E can even consider themselves "champions" of gay rights, and that's their freedom.  But Mr. Robertson, who simply says what God has always said about the sin of homosexuality and other immorality; nope, sorry, can't do that.

Folks, don't be fooled.  This is a slap in the face to our Freedom of Speech.  How much longer will it be before other views which are Biblical become less and less popular, and will cost you your job?  How much longer until the freedom to proclaim the Christ of Christmas is lost all together?  Today it's just a reality TV guy that you might not like anyway.  But will your voice be the next victim? 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Should We Be Keeping Secrets?

I think I'll just give up on Christmas presents this year.  I bought my wife a little something I thought she would love, and now I know she loves it: because someone else already gave it to her.  So I had to tell her that this was going to be her present, and now could you please suggest something else I could buy.

I bought my girls something I thought they might like, and then the oldest calls me and says, "I have a gift card to ________ and they are having a sale right now, and could you help me get online and buy _________?" (which was the gift I had already bought).  So if I just said, "No, I won't help you buy that" I would sound like a mean cruel dad, but I wanted to try and keep the gift a secret...  Aaaahhh!  I had to say, "well what if someone already got..." and she yelled "hush, don't say anything else, never mind!"  So much for surprises.

Then after my wife takes the youngest two out shopping, buying dad a little surprise along the way, my wife and I are talking about various things.  At some point the subject becomes something that is similar to the gift they just bought, and forgetting that it was a surprise/gift, the youngest says, "Oh yeah, when are we going to set up the ____________?"  Everyone freezes, my wife glares, I try to shush the boy, and he then realizes his mistake and runs to his room in tears.  Nice.  (for the record, we told him it was no big deal, and certainly not something to be that upset about; it was just an accident; no one is upset; etc.  It's all good)

Keeping secrets.  At this time of year it's pretty common.  People buying all those Christmas presents.  And it's hard sometimes to remember what was bought for whom, when, and how much is supposed to be a secret.  We all like to surprise and be surprised.  At least most of us.  I was one of those peel-back-the-edge-of-the-wrapping-and-see-if-I-can-catch-a-glimpse-of-the-present kind of kids.  And honestly, though I like to give surprises, it's hard for me to keep secrets long.  If I buy something fun, I want to give it right away.  Waiting just kills me!  But anyway...

All this got me to thinking about why it is that we are so excited about telling others about presents, so excited about giving gifts, and yet...  When it comes to telling the greatest news of all, when it comes to offering the greatest gift ever given, suddenly we act like we're keeping a secret.  Christmas, after all, is supposed to be about Christ; and yet too many Christians act like He's some big secret.  We don't talk about Him.  We don't tell others about His gift of salvation.  We don't share with others what is the single most precious gift ever given.  Why is that?

If I buy a great gift, one that I think my wife, or kids, or whoever, is going to absolutely love; I get all giddy inside and just can't wait to tell them.  I can't wait for them to see it.  But I know the greatest gift ever, the most life changing truth in the universe, and for some reason I don't always feel that same giddiness about offering it to others.  What's that all about?

John the Baptist knew a great truth, and nothing anyone could do or say would stop him from telling it.  John's Gospel opens with those wonderful words about the Word, the Light of the World, and then tells about that other John who was a witness to the light.  We then have a presentation of three straight days where the Baptist points others to Christ.  

One day, he's questioned by the "authorities" but he speaks out the truth in spite of the risk.  "The next day" the Gospel writer says, John sees Jesus and cries out "Behold, the Lamb of God."  And then "the next day again" John points to Jesus again with the same exclamation, and his own disciples leave and begin following after Jesus.  So day after day, at the risk of his own safety, in the joy of seeing Christ, and at the cost of "losing" his own followers, John points others to Jesus.  He can't keep it a secret.

Now, there is a time and place for secrets, even at Christmas.  Don't go running and telling everyone what's wrapped up under the tree.  Those are secrets to keep.  But when it comes to the reason for that tree, the Christ who came and died on a tree for our sins, please, please, please....Don't Keep it a Secret!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christ of the Ups and Downs

Monday is a bad day to write a blog.  Sometimes.  I've mentioned before how Mondays are a bit of a challenge for pastors in particular, because many pastors alternate between Mondays of great joy and great frustration.  Ups and downs. 

So writing a blog on Monday can be something that is extremely fun and exciting and encouraging for me.  Or it can be a cathartic experience of venting frustration and...well, you get the idea.  Ups and downs.

This Monday has seen both.  Woke up late with a headache.  Down.  Ground up and brewed some Reindeer Blend from Caribou Coffee.  Up.  Frustrated by my own ability to get frustrated.  Down.  Read about and remembered God's grace.  Up. 

Then it's time to check the latest on the net.  Read about some stupid decision by an appellate court.  Down.  Read a nice little article about Worrywarts.  Up and down (both encouragement and conviction).  Watched a cute Coke commercial making its rounds.  Up.

Amazing how our emotions can do that, isn't it?  Even in a short amount of time.  Up and down, up and down.  And really, it's not just a few minutes on the internet. Life is like that anyway, isn't it?  Ups and downs.  It's to be expected.  

The problem comes when we let our faith be affected by that emotional roller coaster.  We let our confidence in Christ be affected by circumstances.  We have to remember that He is both Lord over the ups and the downs.  He is unchanging.

Charles Spurgeon (I know, I hardly ever quote him), once spoke about the surety of our salvation, and he addressed the issue of letting our confidence be marred by our feelings.  He said:

Now, a true Christian man cannot be without feeling. God forbid that he should! Feelings of sorrow, feelings of joy, feelings of spiritual depression, and feelings of holy elation, — these are all necessary in their time and place; but to live by feeling, and to gauge our security by our state of feeling, would be truly dreadful work, because our feelings are more fickle than the weather. It is fine just now; but in another half-hour, it may rain. In such a variable climate as ours, we can never reckon for long upon any sort of weather; and as to our hearts, and our feelings, so dependent upon our bodily health, or upon the kindness or the unkindness of our friends, — so dependent upon a thousand little things almost too minute to be observed, — if we begin estimating our safety by our ups and downs, we shall feel lost and then feel saved a hundred times a day. That plan will not do. “The just shall live by faith.” I like to believe in Jesus, when I have the worst feelings, just as firmly as when I have the best of them, and to trust in God just the same when my full assurance in him brims with delight as I did when my soul was emptied by sorrow. (Faith: Life, #2809)

Indeed, He is Christ of the ups and the downs.  Feelings come and go, but our Lord is still Lord.  In another message, Pastor Spurgeon reminded us of the difference between our fleeting feelings and our faithful Father.  He said: 

You pass through many changes, but you have a Saviour who is ever the same, “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, and today, and forever.” You have your ups and downs, you change with every phase of the moon; but with the great “Father of lights” there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning”… He never began a work of grace in anyone, and then left it unfinished. He never adopted a child into his family, and then cast him out to perish. The Lord Jesus Christ never first married any soul, and then divorced her, for he hateth putting away. He will never part with any member of his mystical body; if he could do such an outrageous thing, he would himself be incomplete. (The Gospel Cordial, #3236) 

Life is full of ups and downs.  Each day can see a swing between a dozen hilltops and valleys.  But God is still God. Our relationship with Him has been secured by the finished work of Christ and nothing can change that.  He is always faithful, and no matter what ups and downs life may throw at us, we can always have confidence that we are safe and secure in His hands.  And there is no place I'd rather be.

So, if you're having a good day, rejoice, knowing that each joy you have is a gift from the hand of a loving Father. And if your day isn't so great, just go watch a few funny internet videos, put a smile on your face, and rest assured that you are still loved with an everlasting love.  And He who loves you is unchanging, Lord of the ups and the downs.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Homeschooler Moment #17

I've decided that Facebook is absolutely the bane of blogging.  I haven't done a Homeschooler Moment since April, and I think it's largely because when fun things happen, I post it to Facebook and the blog is neglected.  

Not that the world has lost much.  Most of the people who read this blog (at least two of the three people who actually read it) are my "friends" on FB (wow, that opens up another can of worms, but...)  So I post things there, and forget about the fun that one person may be missing out on.  (Sorry, Aunt Bertha)

This one, however, is just too much fun to pass up.  I did already post the general idea on FB, where dozens pushed the magic "like" button.  But now you lucky blogger fans will not only get that general idea, but an actual replica of the list itself.  What list, you ask.  Well...

Our nine-year-old gave us a Christmas list.  We had asked the older kids for a list, since all being over 17 it's getting a little harder for me to think of ideas.  We told the little guy that we didn't really need a list from him because we know his obsessions and had already even purchased a couple items.  

But not wanting to be left out, he gave us a list anyway.  And since he apparently wants to go into law practice, his list came complete with the "fine print."

In case you can't read nine-year-old, here's the translation: 

Wish List*
I. Camo PJ's
II. LEGO Creator Treehouse Set
III. Slippers (Lego ones if you can find any)
IIII. LEGO House set +

+Any Lego kind like Star Wars, Creator, Like that
*All items that have been purchesed that are not on the list plese do not return   thank you

Gotta love the fine print, the actual asterisk and plus sign for notation, etc.  While his spelling is a bit off we'll give him an A+ for effort and outright "gumption"  (all you other homeschoolers out there, please don't flood the comment section with how bad we are as homeschool parents for letting our nine-year-old spell like this!)

And now, Aunt Bertha, you know what everyone else was laughing about.  Merry Christmas.

(Note:  I don't actually have an Aunt Bertha.  She is a fictional character created solely for the purpose of making people think I actually have family members who read my blog.  My apologies to any real Aunt Bertha's, living or dead). 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What To Do With Santa?

So last night, while we watched another 4-5 inches of snow fall on top of the 8+ we already had, we decided to sit and watch a little Christmas TV.  And what should come on but the story of Santa Claus coming to town.  You know the one.  Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn and Fred Astair tell us the "true" story of Santa Claus.  

Personally, this is one of my favorites.  I love it.  The whole Burgermeister Meisterburger who hates toys, and the lengths Kris Kringle will go to get them to the kids anyway.  It tries to "explain" all the little traditions that have grown up around St. Nick, right down to seals teaching him how to "Ho, Ho, Ho."  Great fun.  

In fact, in spite of all the secular Claus-i-ness of it, it's one of the few stories that still includes at least a nod to the real meaning of Christmas.  It speaks of choosing the "holiest night of the year" to deliver those packages, calling it the "night of profound love."  Not bad as far as those secular ideas go. 

Anyway, the question always comes to mind after watching shows like that: what do we do with Santa?  As Christian parents who want our children to understand truth without necessarily robbing them of any hint of fantasy, how do we address the jolly old elf?

Well, agree or disagree, this is how we've done it.  From early on, our children have known the truth that there really was a man named Nicholas, who was actually a leader in the church.  We told them some of the things he was known for, although the historical record is a bit sketchy.  And though he died a long time ago, down through the years people have wanted to do nice things for others in his honor.  So, we told the kids, you have someone who loves you very much, and they want to be a special "Santa" just for you.

Now, in honor of full disclosure, I must say that after laying that historical framework, we did still allow for some fantasy.  Call me a bad Christian parent, but the kids still called "Santa" at his "workshop".  We still allowed for the possibility of a sleigh landing on our roof and the old guy maybe coming down the chimney, though they often questioned the logic of that.  But in all, we wanted them to know that this stuff was just for fun.  We wanted them to know there was no magical being who lives for hundreds of years outside the realm of God's laws, while at the same time trying to preserve some of the magic and mystery of it all.  

I know all the arguments.  It's wrong to lie to your children about this because when they get older, they question your veracity about other things, including God.  But this is why we started with the historical foundation telling them that this was the real part.  And that the other stuff was just made up for fun.  

And of course, we balanced that out with various ways of celebrating the Advent season.  For years we used an "Advent Chain" which marked the days until Christmas with Scripture readings and hymns each night as we took a link off.  This year, with most of the kids a bit older, we're doing something a little different, and idea I read about from Dr. Timothy Paul Jones from Southern Seminary.  It's called a "Jesse Tree" and it marks the days by showing the centrality of Christ throughout the Scriptural record, from creation and the fall, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Ruth, etc. all the way down to the birth of Christ. (and yes I know the Catholic roots of the idea, but just because the RC church fell into heresy doesn't mean everything they every came up with is useless!)

But we still have fun with the Santa shows.  We also just watched Miracle on 34th Street which is probably my favorite holiday movie.  (Cheryl is partial to White Christmas, and for the record, we watched her show first!) Just part of the holiday fun and traditions.

So what do we do with Santa?  Well, you may disagree with the way we've handled it.  But I do think that while it's ok to enjoy a little of the fantasy, that our kids should at least know the truth (as far as we know it) about the real St. Nick.  Even Veggie Tales has a somewhat respectable take on the historical guy.  He seems to have been as much fun as the pretend guy.  If you don't believe that, just watch this little bit, also from Dr. Jones. (also go here and read about it in historical context) Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Your Pastor is a Target - Pray!

Your pastor is a target. That's right.  A big ol' bullseye right on his chest...or his pulpit...or whatever.  But it's there.

I'm not just talking about the typical garbage that goes on in most churches.  You know what I mean.  The pastor as a target for the disgruntled, for the bitter and angry, for the power hungry, etc.  Though certainly these things can play into the bigger picture I have in mind here. 

What I'm thinking about is the bullseye the enemy has placed on your pastor's chest.  I've been reading Thom Rainer's wonderful little book on church membership.  (BTW, if you haven't read it, you should.  So should every member of your church.  This should be required reading!)  Among the many things he discusses as to what makes a healthy church/church member, he mentions the need to be praying for your leaders.  Why?  Well, because of that bullseye thing. 

Rainer says:  "The devil sees the pastor as a threat, and one of his highest priorities is to take him down and take him out."  What a great devotional thought to start my day!  And yet, he's right on target (pardon the pun).  The enemy knows that the best battle strategy includes taking out those in leadership.

Rainer also points out that the demands on pastors are higher than the rest of the flock.  Demands for holiness, a reputation above reproach, etc.  We hold our leaders to a higher standard, because in a sense God does.  This obviously adds a bit of pressure to the situation as well. 

So put those two together for a moment.  Higher standards of character.  Higher on the list of targets on the enemy's hit list.  The conclusion should be obvious, and it's the one Rainer is highlighting:  Your leaders need your prayers.  We need prayers for a whole host of reasons, but this idea of being a target sure tops the list. 

Rainer has in mind those things that will harm the pastor's reputation.  The enemy just loves it when a pastor falls into an adulterous relationship, or when he skims a bit from the coffers, or some other hugely public and humiliating sin.  He knows that damaging the reputation of the pastor serves to damage the reputation of the church as a whole.  And yes, all that other church garbage I mentioned can just add to things: the constant tearing down of a pastor through gossip and backbiting, etc.  If folks only knew they were playing into the enemy's hands when they do that. 

But again, the point here is just to remember: your pastor is a target.  He needs your prayers.  You can be a blessing to your leaders in other ways to be sure.  Encouraging them instead of complaining.  Refusing to join in the gossip and backbiting when it rears its ugly head.  But above all, pray. Rainer says, "As church members, we must be willing to pray for the leaders in our church.  Without our ongoing intercessory prayer, our churches will not be healthy."  

So take just five minutes today and pray for your pastor.  If you are a pastor, spend time praying for a brother in ministry, or some of the other leaders in your church.  Remember those in the cross hairs of the enemy, and pray for their strength, their protection, their mental and physical health.  The enemy may have put a target on their chest, but remember that our God can provide a shield strong enough to extinguish all those flaming darts the enemy can hurl; even the big guns he aims at our pastors.  So, stop reading stuff on the internet and go pray!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Reformed Rap Rigmarole

Rigmarole: 1. Confused or meaningless talk. 

I think that is certainly a great description of the comments made regarding "holy hip hop" by a recent panel of "experts" at the recent Worship of God conference sponsored by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. (wow, that's a long sentence!)  Let me say up front that while I'm not affiliated with the NCFIC in any official way, I have appreciated much of what they've done in bringing family back to the center of church life.  And I have a lot of respect for many of the leaders associated with the group.  But they really missed this one. 

The question was asked to the panel about whether the recent popularity of "reformed rappers" was a good thing in the church; their opinions about "reformed rap" in general.  No names were really given of which rappers they were discussing.  One man did mention Toby Mac, who really isn't a reformed rapper at all.  I'm assuming they meant folks like Lecrae, Flame, Shai Linne, Json, etc.  Anyway, the comments that came as a result are laughable at best, and downright unChristian at worst.

Arguments ranged from "you can't separate the music style from the culture it came from" to "this might be ok for young guys, but it doesn't lead to maturity."  None of the arguments given were backed with good biblical support.  One comment went so far as to call these musicians "disobedient cowards."  Wow!  That's a kind, redemptive kind of thought, isn't it?

The reaction to this has exploded on the internet.  One of the panel has even issued an apology...of sorts.  It's more of "I'm sorry you were offended" rather than "I'm sorry for what I said."  I am glad to see many come to the defense of the good, godly brothers who have been maligned here.  (I especially like this one from Bob Schembre, and this one from none other than Al Mohler.)

I also had this wonderful defense come to mind.  I've written about this subject several times, actually, dating back as far as 2009.  But then I saw this comment on social media from Mike Leake.  He said (with great sarcasm): "I'm overwhelmed by the # of earth-shattering, Christianity-changing debates being had on the internet, & yet few in local church even know."  Ouch.  I get the point. Most folks in the local church will never know about this "rigmarole."  And in the end, it may not ever have much impact on the local church. (I know it's not much of a discussion in my own church (probably because I'm the only one who listens to the stuff or even know it exists!). 

So I withhold my awe inspiring response and defense of my guys Flame and Lecrae.  Except to say this.  My Sunday School class has been studying the book of Galatians using Timothy Keller's Galatians for You.  In the lesson we looked at just this past Sunday, he says this.  "Gospel ministry is culturally flexible.  A ministry that's energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart form the gospel.  It is not tied to every specific of culture and custom...One of the marks of a legalistic, works-righteous mindset is that it is inflexible, and obsessed with details.  Such a person wants the converts to dress and act 'just like us.'" (emphasis in the original)

I can't help but think the folks from the NCFIC panel could have used a little of that wisdom.  I pray that this does not increase the divide that already exists in many areas of the church between "us" and "them."  I hope there isn't a  reaction from the urban missionary types against those promoting family integrated ministry because not all of us feel the way this panel does.  And I hope in the end we are all more concerned with reaching folks with the gospel than we are with making them "just like us."  And I hope that someone will have the guts to step up and genuinely apologize for the "confused and meaningless talk" that came from that panel.