Tag Archives: christians and social issues

Addicted to Conflict

unknownI feel that we, as a society, are addicted to conflict. Everything from our sporting events to our television shows to our political system is predicated on conflict. One team beating another team. One television show character in conflict with another character (think of every “reality” tv show). One political party using words, press releases, legislation and speeches to create conflict with the other. Sometimes I feel we haven’t come very far from the Roman citizens shouting for blood in the Coliseum.

Conflict gives us purpose. It gives us authority. It gives us a side to be on and a group to belong to. Or at least it gives us the illusion of those things. And perhaps like the Roman citizens in the Coliseum, all of our conflicts, or illusions of conflicts, keep us distracted and preoccupied from seeing the real conflicts that fester right under the surface.

It’s the conflicts that we find festering under the surface, however, that really impact the world. In the scope of the eighty-something years we live on the earth, the fact that our team won the game pales in comparison to the struggle against poverty. Ending the use of child soldiers in global conflicts ranks just a little higher than whether this reality star is going to get into a shouting match with that other reality star. And yet SportsCenter grabs our attention and the talk shows grab our attention. I wonder what it would take of the real conflicts to grab our attention.

Especially at Advent, as we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes. The Messiah- the one who would set the world right again, the one who would defeat evil, the one who would establish justice and righteousness, the one who would be placed on the throne of David forever- is the one who would bring peace into the conflicts.


As we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes.


Yet Christmas brings the temptation to draw us further into the world of decorations, presents and parties. It brings the temptation to make our eyes smaller and turned in on ourselves instead making them bigger and turning them outward to celebrate the Messiah that has come, to see what the Messiah has done in the world, grieve that there are still conflicts in the world and anticipate the Messiah’s return when Jesus, the King-elect, will be coronated to reign forever.

Today, take a few minutes and turn your eyes to the world. Look at:

  • Syria and the violence to children and civilians
  • Nigeria, the persecution of Christians and the 2.1 million people displaced by conflict there
  • Refugees
  • The 45 million people in the US living at the poverty line
  • The 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US

What else in the world do we need to see? Let us know in the comment section.

Lots of Good, If Not Much New: Review of “The Great Spiritual Migration”

9781601427915When I saw that Brian McLaren had come out with another book, I immediately put it on my Amazon wish list. Naturally I was excited when I saw the opportunity to read and review the book for Blogging for Books. (I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.) I’ve read a good number of McLaren’s books over the years and I enjoy them- even if I don’t agree with everything he proposes. The great thing about McLaren is, however, that I don’t think he would want that anyway.

Perhaps it is because I have read a number of his books, that I found The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian to be full of good thoughts and ideas while not being particularly novel or new. In the book, McLaren proposes that Christianity needs to change (migrate) in three areas: 1. from being centered on correct belief to being center in love 2. from seeing God as a God of exclusion to a God of reconciliation and multi-ethnic expression 3. from the church being an organized institution to an organizing movement of change. These are all good observations but not unique to McLaren alone.

The negative first. In the opening section, McLaren argues that Christianity needs to migrate from being centered on correct belief to being centered in love. The reason for this re-centering on love is because God is love (1 John 4:8) and that central focus on love should be announced and ritualized (61-62). While I agree with his argument, what McLaren is actually doing is declaring that love is the correct belief of Christianity. “God is love” is a belief and by saying that it should be central is effectively arguing that it is the correct belief. He simply trades “correct” doctrines on God, salvation, ecclesiology, or whatever for a “correct” doctrine of love. I’m not saying he’s wrong (I think he’s right) but we need to be aware of what he’s actually proposing. What Christians do need to focus on is how their beliefs (doctrines) organized in creed, confessions or statements work in practice. For example, if we believe in God, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, how do I live that out on a day to day basis?

To the positive. McLaren is right when he sites that our world is faced with a four-fold crisis: ecological, economic, sociopolitical and spiritual and religious (166). What is amazing is that the Christian message speaks to all four of them. The main takeaway that I got from the book is that, as Christians, we need to step back from our local church problems and from our denominational problems and see that “the problems we need to solve are bigger that Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism, or Catholicism. We have Christian problems…[and] ultimately, the problems we face are not just Christian problems, they are human problems” (145). And if the problems we face are human problems, ecological, economic, sociopolitical and religious, then Christians need to show how faith in the crucified and risen Jesus speaks to each of those problems. And how do we do that? McLaren rightly says it’s by doing to small things, the individual things and trusting that “God can get done through all of us what none of us can do alone” (198). When I do this, I’m not (and I love this line) “playing God, I’m playing with God, at play in God’s good world, where everything is holy” (198).

Overall I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to someone who was beginning to think about these issues for the first time. If you’re familiar with McLaren’s other books, The Great Spiritual Migration may not hold the wealth of new ideas that you hoped for.

Fall To Grace, Not From It

This time it’s Perry Noble.

Perry Noble was founding and Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. NewSpring is a mega-mega church 17 campuses and a weekly attendance of around 30,000 people. Perry was removed as Lead Pastor of NewSpring after admitting to alcoholism and “unfortunate choices.” It is a sad time for NewSpring Church and for the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have heard Perry Noble preach. I  have also heard and read things about his church and ministry that have caused me pause and made me question his orthodoxy in certain areas. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I pray that he had been genuinely engaging people with the gospel.

This isn’t the first high-profile pastor that has made a mistake. In recent memory  we have seen Mark Driscoll resign from Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 removed him from the organization (even thought he founded Acts 29) because of controversy surrounding, what has been called, abusive behavior toward church members, ex-church members and ex-staff. Mars Hill Church then announced that it would dissolve and sell all 14 campuses.

We have also seen the fall of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s grandson) who resigned after confessing t0 extramarital affairs. There’s also the revelation from Naghmeh Abedini who filed for separation from her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was the Irania American pastor imprisoned in Iran because of “allegations of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.”

As I mention these three “high-profile” examples, I’m sure you know of others- both locally, nationally and internationally (like South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho who was convicted of embezzling $12 million from his church).

With all these example of pastors falling from grace, what are we to do? What do we do as Christ followers? What do we do as church leaders?

There is a lot that could be said, but I believe it can be boiled down to one overarching idea: fall to grace, not from it.

The phrase is not unique to me and it summarizes many of the other points. It reminds us that we all need grace. We are all sinners saved by grace. And we continually need grace because, though we are saved sinners, there is still the desire to sin within us. All of us are one mistake, one bad decision, one lapse of judgment away from being a thief, murderer or adulterer. That realization is a sobering one. It’s only by pressing into Jesus and falling into God’s grace each moment that helps us put to death the sinful nature and walk in the Spirit.

When we fall into the temptation that our strength, our ministry, our very life are derived from anywhere else but Christ, we move one step closer to falling from grace- in the eyes of those around us; we can never fall from God’s grace. When we don’t continually fall into God’s grace, rest in him and rely on his strength, we find that we will be let down by others and we will let others down.

I can’t say that I will never make a mistake. I can’t say that I will never let my wife, my children or my church down. I can’t say that I will never say the wrong thing. But I can say (because I believe it to be true) that the further I fall into grace, the harder it will be to fall from it.

 

References:

Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response” by Ed Stetzer

How a Megachurch Melts Down” by Ruth Graham

Tullian Tchividjian Confesses Second Affair Concealed by Two Coral Ridge Elders” by Morgan Lee

The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations” by Bob Smietana

Millennials, We Need to Help Close the Gap

This month I’ve written two posts on the church and it’s relationship with Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). In the previous posts, we talked about how the church is failing to make an enticing sales pitch to Millennials and how the church can engage Millennials in a way that anchors them in the rich history of the Christian faith while embracing the future. Both of those posts were about things the church needs to go to close the gap to Millennials. In this post, I want to change audiences and speak to some things Millennials, specifically Christian Millennials, need to do to close the gap to the church. As much as non-religious Millennials feel a gap between themselves and faith and church, Christian Millennials often feel that the church is missing them too.

“Help me help you.” I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. Often it’s used when someone asks for help or assistance but then does something to undermine the help they are asking for. My generation needs to help the church help us. We cannot expect the church alone to close the gap, there has to be intentional movement on our part to close the gap as well.

I want to suggest three things that Millennials can do to help close the gap to the church.

Read a simple book on theology. I don’t think is necessary to read a multi-volume set on systematic theology but every Christian should read a basic theology book. At the same time I’m not talking about Christian Living books, as helpful as they might be. I’m talking about books that help us define and better understand the richness of God and the gospel. Here are a few suggestions by authors who are alive and writing theology for our context:
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Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. This book is a theological-biography (theography) of Jesus. If you want an in-depth look at the life of Jesus but without all the academic jargon, this is a great book. At 310 pages, it’s long but manageable.

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Any number of books by N.T. Wright. My top three include: How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

All three of these book are in the low to mid 200 page rage in length, making them very accessible to those who know a lot or a little about theology. Plus, they are written by one of the most well respected New Testament theologians-ever.   Each of these books will help you see what Jesus and Jesus’ message meant in his first century context, why it was revolutionary and how it still impacts us today.

imagesCenter Church by Timothy Keller. This is a fantastic book if you are interested in how theology and the church (ecclesiology) intersect. If you want to get a feel for the book, check out my favorite quotes from Center Church, part 1 and part 2.

 

Reading theology books like these are going to help you and I better understand the full scope of Jesus, Jesus’ message and what Jesus’ message means (in his time and in our time) that we simply cannot get through sermons or small groups. This isn’t the fault of pastors or small group leaders but those settings typically aren’t the right place for the kinds of conversations that these authors engage in. If you want to invest in your faith, beyond sermons and small groups, then dig in and read some theology books- and these are a great place to start.

Know the full story of Scripture. As Millennials, we need to be better at our understanding to Scripture. Specifically we need to understand the two major narrative arches in Scripture. First, the historical arch. We need to know and understand the historical timeline that provides the framework for the Old and New Testaments. We need to know the historical markers from Creation to Exodus to Exile to Jesus. Second, the theological arch. We need to understand the overall story that Scripture tells. Everything from the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles tell one overarching story of God moving to bring salvation to the world. We need to understand how each of those parts fit into the larger story. It’s by understanding the historical arch and the theological arch that we can know how our lives, churches and point in history fit into what God is doing to redeem the world.

Go talk to your pastors/ ministers. The role of a pastor or a minister is to equip those under their care to minister and serve. The truth of the matter is that pastors and ministers don’t always know the best way to do that.- especially if there is a generational gap. That’s where you and I come in. Go talk to your pastors/ ministers. Get to know them and they will get to know you in return. Let them know what issues you and your peers are encountering. Let them know the “times” and “seasons” of your culture. For example, in your culture maybe Thursday nights during the spring would be a bad time to plan an event because of kid’s sports practice. Perhaps a service project at an outdoor concert during the summer would provide families who don’t attend church with great exposure to the love of Jesus. Nobody knows how to impact those around you with the message and love of Jesus better than you- where ministers can be involved is in helping you do that. But if they are trying to equip you in ways you don’t need to be equipped or if they are not equipping you in the ways you need to be equipped, go and tell them or neither side will reach it’s full potential to reach those in your community with the message and love of Jesus.

There’s a gap between the church and the Millennial generation (my generation). There are things the church needs to do the begin closing that gap but there are also some things we can do to help. These three suggestions aren’t hard but I believe they will prove beneficial to help us, as Millennials, close the gap between us and the church.

Shoes, a Sales-Pitch and the Church

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat them in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat him in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Nike lost Stephen Curry; the church is losing a generation.

Last week the sports site ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss on the events that led current NBA MVP Stephen Curry to leave the shoe and athletic apparel company Nike. I was first made aware of the article through a summery written for Bleacher Report by Kyle Newport.

Strauss’ tells the story of Curry’s shoes. In the NBA shoe endorsements are a HUGE deal. Companies pay athletes millions of dollars (sometimes even more than what they make playing basketball) to wear (and therefore entice the public to buy) a certain brand of shoe and clothing apparel. Since Michael Jordan the pinnacle of the shoe brand has been Nike.

Back in 2013, Stephen Curry was an up-and-coming NBA star. His stardom hadn’t yet exploded but he was a player that was definitely on the way up. He was a Nike athlete and when the time came to re-up his contract, it seemed that Nike had the deal all but done- but then they blew it.

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Strauss tells that, according to Stephen’s father who was present, the Nike executives made several huge errors that caused Stephen to ultimately leave Nike and sign an endorsement deal with Under Armour. The first was they mispronounced Stephen’s name- and no one corrected it. Second, they used a Powerpoint presentation (which was out of date even in 2013) that was prepared for the sales pitch to another NBA star. Stephen’s father said the presentation still had the other player’s name on it along with material specific to that particular player. Third, Stephen wanted to participate in the Nike basketball camp program, since he went to them often as a kid, however the prospect of a camp wasn’t on the table as far as Nike was concerned. So Stephen Curry left Nike and went to Under Armour.

What does all that have to do with the church losing a generation?

The mistakes that Nike made in their sales-pitch to Stephen Curry are the same mistakes that churches are making today when it comes to the largest yet most religiously apathetic generation ever- the Millennial generation.

Courtesy of the Barna Group

Courtesy of the Barna Group

First, far too often the church is speaking to the wrong audience. This is like the Nike executives mispronouncing Stephen Curry’s name. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where someone calls you by the wrong name. Maybe you understand the first time but if you correct it and it continues to happen you know that the other person just isn’t listening to what you’re saying and you, in turn, tune them out. The same thing is occurring in our churches today. Millennials see the church speaking to audiences other than them. Or if the church does attempt to speak to them, many times it’s mispronouncing who they are, what they value and what they are seeking out of life.

Second, the church can’t simply repackage what its done before. Just like it’s inexcusable for Nike to repackage a presentation obviously created for another athlete, the church cannot repackage it’s old “presentations” and hope that Millennials don’t notice. Details matter. One of the main points in Strauss’ piece is that Nike failed to play to Stephen’s ego; they failed to show that he was going to be a major piece in their company and not a second tier athlete. This generation doesn’t need it’s ego stroked but it does need to know that it deserves something new, distinct, creative and to know that they are not second tier.

Third, the church isn’t providing for the deepest desires. For Stephen Curry, his desire was to give back to aspiring basketball players through Nike camps and when it appeared that Nike wasn’t sharing that desire, he went to a company that did. What are the desires of Millennials? Being a Millennial I can speak to some of our desires. We desire relationship and community with each other and across generational lines. We value being involved in something bigger than ourselves, especially if that “something” is trying to make a real difference in the world. We want to be connected to the past, as well as, to the future. We desire to be challenged to do big things. Most of all we desire to be loved and accepted.

I’ve written this post about how the church is making a sales pitch to the Millennial generation but the church isn’t trying to reach only them. The church is making a sales pitch to Baby Boomers, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. The church is making a sales pitch to people with graduate degrees and those with no education. The church is making a sales pitch to the highly spiritual and the atheist. No matter where your church is located or who you and your church are in position to reach, the truth is if you haven’t thought about the ways and the message you are communicating, then you’re probably driving people away, not from Nike, but from God.


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An Un-Advent-ful World: Peace

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

2015 will go most likely go down as the bloodiest year for gun violence (although Congress has placed a ban on the collection of fully accurate gun violence statistics. Read an Washington Post article about that here.) Around the world we hear about the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS, the fight against Boko Haram, tensions in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

The political left mercilessly attacks the political right. The political right mercilessly attacks the political left.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

National politicians, political candidates and state governments battle over immigrants, refugees, use of the military, gun control, the LGBT community, the environment and healthcare.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

In an un-advent-ful world, peace is achieved through conflict. That statement, while being full of irony, is also full of truth. Peace is achieved when the strongest voice removes all traces of the voice, or voices, of decent. Throughout history this has typically been accomplished through violence, murder, coercion, assassination or imprisonment.Peace under those conditions is not really peace.

Jesus came not only to make peace between God and humanity but between humans ourselves. Jesus demanded that the Kingdom of God (which he announced had, in fact, begun) could not advance through violence or coercion. The Kingdom of God couldn’t come via Peter’s sword. It couldn’t come by James and John lording over the other disciples. It couldn’t even come by Jesus calling down legions of angels.

The Kingdom of God could only come by way of a cross, a broken body and a bleeding Son of God.

That cross, the Apostle Paul tells in Ephesians 2, not only made peace with God but it made peace between people groups because now all people have access to God. It is also because of the cross that Paul can write, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

How do we advance the Kingdom of God?  We advance it through truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, salvation and the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).

The question remains, even in the midst of Advent, if we are called to a gospel of peace, where is peace and where are the peacemakers? Will be be people of peace and peacemakers within the world?

[This song really isn’t about Advent but it’s theme is very similar to what we have been discussing.]

 

Apply to Amaze: Theological Vision

We’ve been talking about the words of Jesus and if we are still amazed by them- as the crowds in the gospels were when they heard the words and message of Jesus. I ended the last post with a series of questions and I want to address two of them here:

Would those around us, if they heard the words of Jesus, be amazed?

If those around us are not amazed at Jesus’ words, why?

When it comes to the words of Jesus, a majority of those around us fall into one (or more than one) of three categories. First, they simply don’t know anything that Jesus said. Second, they don’t care to know anything that Jesus said. Third, they have the wrong idea of what Jesus said.

A brand new study released by the Pew Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans over the course of seven years. They found that over the seven year time period, the number of Americans who said that religion was “not at all” important to their life grew by 5.3%. The study also found that those who classify as “religiously unaffiliated” grew by 6.7% (from 16.1% of those surveyed to 22.8%). [Here are links to two articles on the Pew study: one from NPR and one from Christianity Today.]

Another recent survey conducted by the Church of England found that 25% of those ages 18-34 believe that Jesus is purely a “mythical or fictional character.”

These studies show the growth of people in each of the three categories we mentioned a moment ago. Seeing that reality, how do we engage people with the word and message of Jesus? And engage them in such a way that they come away amazed?

In trying to answer these questions, there are two different directions we can go. Either we can say that what we need is more evangelism; we need more people telling more people Jesus’ message. The logic goes like this, “If people don’t know what Jesus said, we need to go and tell them what Jesus said- whether they like it or not, whether they are ready or not.” I’m purposely taking a cynical view of evangelism because I think that this is how it comes across to those people around us.

The other direction we can go is application. This is the direction that I believe we need to travel. If those around us either don’t know what Jesus said, don’t care what Jesus said or have the wrong idea of what Jesus said, instead of approaching with a list of things Jesus said, we need to be able to show the effects of Jesus’ words within our own lives.

This direction makes sense and it’s what we do in other aspects of our lives. If I buy a new TV and I am trying to convince you to buy the same TV, I could read the owners manual to you or I could show you the TV. That’s the difference between purely evangelism in the manner we have historically done it and showing people the effects of Jesus in application.

The problem is that most of us don’t know how to apply the words and message of Jesus into our lives. I’ve become convinced that application is the most important aspect when we come to the study of Scripture. I’ve also become convinced that application consists of more than simply what to do in Situation A or Circumstance B. Application must consist, in the words of Timothy Keller, of theological vision. Keller defines theological vision as “a vision for what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place.” He goes on to elaborate,

We must discern where and how the culture can be challenged and affirmed…Those who are empowered by the theological vision do not simply stand against the mainstream impulses of the culture but take the initiative both to understand and speak to that culture from the framework of the Scriptures…The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed…So what is a theological vision? It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich impulses for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history. (Center Church, 18-19). 

Changing our idea of application from what to do in Situation A or Circumstance B to a theological vision for the culture we are in takes way more work than brainstorming a few examples of common problems. It takes work to see culture, understand culture and see how Scripture speaks into the culture so that the culture can be transformed.

The Pew study shows that 46.1% of Americans see religion as “somewhat” or “not at all” important in their life, the way we can re-engage them in spiritual things is to apply to amaze. Apply the message of Jesus in such a way that those around us who don’t know what Jesus said, don’t care what Jesus said or have the wrong idea of what Jesus said are amazed to the point where they have a desire to know the words of Jesus for themselves.