Thursday, September 11, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
One interesting idea that has come up in a few of the books is the narcissistic view of many Christians. Thus, people say that, "Jesus died for me." People thank God "for all that you have done for me." We sing songs like, "I'll Fly Away" that talk about us blowing this joint the moment that we pass on. We talk about what the pastor does for me. We talk about how church meets my needs.
This post is simply question begging. It's more of an exercise in free-thinking than providing timeless truths of God's Word. Perhaps you'll dialogue with my thoughts. Perhaps you won't. Regardless, I'm thinking out loud and I hope you find something that engages you.
I know there are many narcissistic Christians. I know there are many selfless Christians. One name that immediately comes to mind in the latter category is Dr. Bob Black over at Southern Wesleyan University. We used to joke on campus that he was the definition of Wesleyan holiness. If you're going to be the butt of a few jokes, that's a good one. I remember when my first semester was complete, he called me a few days into my break (and his!). He had written out my entire plan for the next four semesters to ensure my graduation. My wife and I were very impressed. I did not have one professor at SWU that I couldn't stand. On the contrary, I dearly loved every one of them, but Dr. Black had a sort of compassion that I never had seen in somebody else. He was tough, but in a loving sort of way.
On the other hand, I've seen churches who have been rendered useless by the constant bickering and unwillingness to cooperate with others who have different opinions on how church should be done. I've seen an entire movement built on the idea that being a Christian means having access to God's material blessing. Lakewood Church in Houston, pastored by Joel Osteen, has 40,000+ members. His theology is that God blesses abundantly, meaning you will have all the material possessions that you want. This form of narcissism is at the extreme end of the spectrum.
The more moderate narcissist is found in many normal churches. This individual comes because they like the pastor's preaching, the worship team's music, the aesthetics of the sanctuary, the children's ministry, and the people that they worship with. If one or more of these things go away, then the person becomes disinterested and goes away.
This problem is not generational. The younger generation accuses the older generation of being too set in their ways, but the younger generation is not nearly as flexible as they would have you think. Thus, we are focused on what blesses me, what helps me grow, and what makes me happy. We gravitate to churches that are our style. We come to the Lord so that we may go to Heaven. Now, I'm not saying we should go to a church that is totally dysfunctional, but perhaps we should select a church that can use us for mission. Perhaps we should select a church where we can bless others, not where we can be blessed.
And in terms of our faith in God, let me ask you this: If there was no eternal life, would you still worship God? If you were to receive no reward from God for service to Him, would you work for Him? If you got nothing out of your pastor's sermons but were used in effective Kingdom building, would you still go? If you loved contemporary music, but the church really loved the hymns, would you still attend? These questions are not easy to answer, and I cannot pretend that I would respond in the affirmative to them. My prayer is, however, that God would allow me to. I don't want to serve God for me. I want Him to have all the glory, but I don't know if I want it badly enough, yet.
I've been reading a lot of Scripture dealing with the idea of living for others. I'm convinced that the Bible teaches the Christian to forget about self and live solely for others. I'm just not sure how that's done. I'm not that mature. Regardless, I know that it is God's will for me, for you, and for His entire Church.
We are told that talking is a healthy thing. It’s no secret that women, who express far more emotion than men, talk much more than men. Women like to pick on men because we don’t know how to communicate. We like to bottle things up, and then when the right (or wrong) moment strikes, we explode. In this sense, talking is a healthy thing.
But when it comes to communicating with God, talking is quite unhealthy. People generally get the impression that prayer is simply talking to God. Therefore, our prayers look a little bit like this:
Lord Jesus, thank you for this lovely day. Thanks that I can talk to You. Please bless me as I try to serve you today, and please help Mary Sue who is sick and Bobby Joe who is having surgery. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
But that is not genuine communication with God. That’s telling God what you think. If my wife talked to me that way, then ended the conversation and went about her own business, I’d take the tweezers and pull my hair out!
This is one reason why I don’t like to verbalize prayers. Some people don’t get it, my wife being one of them. She likes to hear what I’m saying so she knows what I’m praying for. The problem is that if I’m talking, I cannot hear what God is saying. That’s why I never pray out loud in private. God needs to talk to me, too. Actually, He needs to talk to me more than I need to talk to Him.
This is not a slam against public prayer. It’s a great idea. I’m not saying that praying out loud is bad. It’s not. But God knows what’s on my heart before I ask Him. On the other hand, how many of you have felt that you had no idea where God was in your life? We all feel that way from time to time. God knows my thoughts but I don’t know His. If this is true, then who should be the one talking? Not me!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Brett Favre's first throw as a professional quarterback was a touchdown. On November 10, 1991, the rookie quarterback, then playing for Atlanta, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by the Redskins' Andre Collins. The Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl. Brett Favre's final pass was an interception to Corey Webster, a throw that helped send the Giants to their third Super Bowl win. They were two dubious throws that were the moldy bread which encapsulated the sandwich, the meat of which was a Hall of Fame career.
Brett Favre broke many NFL records. Even so, I will not argue that he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He deserves to be in the argument, but he doesn't deserve to win it. Despite his numbers, he was not as good as Elway, Brady, Bradshaw, or Montana. However, he was by far the most fun quarterback to watch in NFL history. His improvisational skills were fantastic. He made so many crazy, goofy looking plays that fans simply shook their heads. Further, one never knew if those throws would result in an interception, further adding suspense to every play. He made more good throws than bad ones, but still, his wildman tendencies made for a suspensful football game. The NFL has had many exciting quarterbacks: Daryle Lamonica, Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Steve Young, John Elway, Michael Vick, and Randall Cunningham. Favre was more exciting than any of them.
Still, he had struggles. In 1996, he announced his addiction to Vicodin, a prescription painkiller. That season, he won his only Super Bowl. His father died on December 23, 2003. Brett was able to put that behind him in order to whip the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football, one of the most touching games in NFL history. His second to last season was his worst, throwing more interceptions than any year in his career. Despite all of his touchdowns, he made many, many ill-advised passes. With each bad one, he had the uncanny ability to shake it off and move on. When he threw his first NFL pass, he amazed Jerry Glanville, then his head coach, by bragging that his first pass was a touchdown. When Glanville informed him that it went to the wrong team, Favre beamed that nobody would remember that several years down the road. With all of his flaws, he never missed a start, and he is guaranteed to make it into the Hall of Fame five years from now, his first year of eligibility.
Brett Favre played one season in Atlanta. When Ron Wolfe hired Favre in Green Bay, the scouting reports said that he had maybe five years in him. Brett started 275 consecutive games over 17 seasons. In his first game in Green Bay, he replaced Don Majkowski, and proceded to stink up the place, fumbling three times. He was able to pull the game together, throwing a touchdown pass to beat Cincinatti 24-23 with 17 seconds left. Even in his first game in Green Bay, he showed that the had the stuff to get up when knocked down.
Humans are flawed. Even the great ones are imperfect. The strongest Christians will sometimes succumb to moments of weakness. What makes all the difference is what comes after the fall. Do we confess, repent, and move on, or do we allow our failures to spin a downward cycle of damnation?
Monday, March 3, 2008
More than likely, this will be my only post this week, as I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to read it without having to scroll down to the bottom of the page. I have a few drafts ready for next week.
We've created a monster...
"The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 2:4 (NIV)
Holiness is a vital part of the Christian faith. Scripture tells us that we must walk as Jesus did. Jesus tells us that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Scripture even uses harsh language, calling those who sin "enemies of God." Thus, if I am a serious student of God's Word, I must come to grips with these statements and teach them as Truth.
I'm hard on my fellow preachers. Part of the reason is that I hear a lot of garbage coming from our pulpits. Turn on WTBI in Greenville and you'll hear it. What they are saying, in some cases, is not unbiblical. The problem is that the rhetoric is overly belligerent. From my pulpit, I have no problem calling sin exactly what it is. That is not my issue with much of the preaching that I hear. The problem that I have is that people preach against sin without a greater point.
If I want to hear "amen," all I have to do is find something to rail against and I'll hear it. If I ask people to be introspective, however, you'll hear crickets chirp in the church. Nobody likes to look in the mirror. If I talk about those dastardly homosexuals, drunks, perverts, and liberals, people like that. Pastors, your congregation will LOVE it if you preach about somebody else.
The problem is that we've created a culture where sin is something that somebody else does, not something that I do. Further, we've created a culture in our churches where people are afraid to speak out and get help for their sin. I'll give you an example. I did a little bit of research and found out that about half the men in our churches struggle with viewing pornography, including pastors, whose percentage mirrors laity. You read that correctly; half of all pastors surveyed admitted to viewing a pornographic website in the past year. If this is true, then half of the men in my church are viewing porn. Half of the ministers that I go to conferences with are viewing porn. Do you know how many confessions that I've heard on the issue? None.
Now imagine this: Let's say that one person in your church during the Sunday morning service had the courage to admit that he was viewing porn . Let's say that he asked you to pray for him. How would your church respond? I told my church yesterday that I better never hear gossip from anybody about someone who has confessed their sins. If I hear it, I will deal with it very harshly. In my church, I really believe that it would start a revival. I believe that others would see that courage and begin to confess as well.
We should never treat sin as something somebody else does. If we do, then we're struggling by ourselves. We cannot fight the Devil alone. In this area, the Catholics really have something. In order to receive the Eucharist during a Catholic mass, you must go to confession. To Protestants, this doesn't mean much; however, let's consider the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Catholics believe in transsubstantiation; the elements literally become the body and blood of Jesus. Thus the Catholics are saying that if you don't confess your sins, you cannot have Jesus! While I tend to disagree theologically on several of those points, I cannot argue with the conclusion.
I don't want to hear your sins so that I can judge you. I don't want to hear your sins to examine your dirty laundry. I want you to confess so that you can get sin's filth out of your soul. It's amazing; sin tends to leave our bodies through our mouths!
But the closet is the devil's home turf and we've created a culture of fear. We're afraid to be judged. We're afraid to look weak. We're afraid to be characterized as "that sinner over there." I told our church yesterday morning that our prayer list looks like this:
- Mary Jones - surgery
- Fred Smith - sick
- Bobby Jackson - cancer
- Susie Cooper - sick mom.
Imagine if our prayer list looked like this:
- Mary Jones - gossip
- Fred Smith - pornography
- Bobby Jackson - stewardship
- Susie Cooper - grudges against Mary Jones
We've created a monster. All of our preaching against sin has taught our people that our preacher and our brothers won't love us if we're a sinner. We need to change this now, or we will continue to have spiritually weak congregations. Pastors, be careful how you preach sin. Stand for holiness, but show grace and love. Encourage confession. Laity, quit gossiping, judging, and shunning those who struggle. You are a stumbling block to revival. Show love. Pray earnestly for those in sin. Confess even the darkest sin in your life. Let's have church be a place of grace and healing.