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Archive for October, 2007

 Here is another installment in my sermon series on Colossians.  I’m almost done with the book, one more sermon to preach, and will post the rest of the sermons periodically.  You can find all the sermon on this blog by clicking on the “Sermons” category on the right side of the screen.  I really enjoyed this sermon, as I feel that our view of Christ is what makes the difference between Christian and non-Christian.

Standard disclaimer: This is the rough draft, so there are probably typos and things that I cleaned up later… forgive any messiness.

(more…)

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I remember reading a John Donne poem about a man who was sitting in church. In front of him was a very rich woman, dressed in the finest of clothes, radiating class and beauty. She was very much the bees knees and thought very highly of herself. But as he sat there he could see a louse wriggling around in her hair. She thought she was “all that” and here she was covered in vermin. The punch line of the poem was something along the lines of, “If only we could see ourselves as others see us.”

I’ve thought of that a lot lately. Have you ever had one of those times when you find out that someone that you thought liked you really doesn’t think much of you? Maybe you overhear them talking, you get an email that you weren’t meant to see, someone else tells you something they said, or they tell you themselves that they don’t really think highly of you? That can be very devastating. You’re tripping along, thinking that you are a pretty decent person and then find out that others don’t really see you the same way that you see yourselves. It’s like a kick in the gut that you didn’t see coming.  But it’s just the truth coming out.

I wonder: if we could invent some sort of mind-reader that would show us how others REALLY think of us, when they get beyond the social masks that we all wear, would we want to know? It might help us to see our deficiencies and make improvements but it might just make us defensive. Or it might just devastate us and make us wonder what we’ve been doing wrong all along.

You’re a lucky person if you have someone in your life who can lovingly tell you how you really come across in such a way that you can fix the things that are lacking. You’re a good person if you are honest with people, because one day the mask will come off and people will know how you really feel about them.

Oh, to see ourselves as others see us.

I don’t know what kind of application to leave here. Most of us can’t see the lice on our heads (the personality faults that are so obvious to others). I guess all I can say is that we should be as honest as possible with others, gently telling them if they come across in a bad way (and hoping that they don’t get hurt, defensive, or apathetic to you). It’s funny, people who value honesty will carry on like they like a person long after they have written them off. Is that one of the times when a “white lie” is acceptable?

Soul-searching is hard, you often don’t like what you find.

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I’ve been saying for a long time that the key to the church being effective is for it to rely less on programs and gimmicks and talk more about discipleship and personal growth.  For that I was told that I was just “jealous” of the big churches.

Today I read in Leadership magazine that Bill Hybels of Willow Creek (who I’ve never criticized) is admitting that all of the programs were not really that effective in making for better Christians (which is what I’ve been opining).

Here’s a snippet of the article (but please, go read the whole thing), you can read the whole article here:

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

I’m glad to hear Bill Hybels say this.  It’s not an attack on the megachurch or the big time ministries, it’s just an observation that people need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, not just “get fed” by the church organization.  Small churches can fall short on this point just as easily as big churches (and often do!).  And big churches could do this just as easily as small churches with mentorship, bible study, and small groups.

Still, I wonder if people will just say that Bill Hybels is “jealous” of Willow Creek.

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No, not really. But I’m sure that there will be folks out there who will accuse Mark of being “jealous” because he is taking Joel Osteen’s message of Prosperity-Word of Faith Theology to task. Yeah, right. Watch this clip, it’s an awesome message that shows that the Christian life is not just getting everything you want. Instead, it is serving a loving God in a fallen world.

I’m all for motivational speakers in the proper (secular) context. People like Dr. Phil and Oprah are great at getting people motivated to quit feeling sorry for themselves, get off their couch, and take charge of their lives. There’s nothing wrong with that message, in a secular context. But when we start saying that God will make us rich, give us a big mansion here on earth, remove every sickness, and give us perfect relationships, we are distorting not only reality, but the message of the bible. The Christian life is not about getting served by God, but serving God.

That message resonates well in our world: who doesn’t want to be rich and prosperous? Yet, I wonder what the people who follow Prosperity Preachers do when they are stricken with cancer, lose their life savings in an Enron-style scandal, have their wife leave them, etc. Do they blame God? Do they blame their own faith? Do they leave the church?

Good thing Paul didn’t preach that message or believe it, or he would have given up when he first believed and was targeted for death. He would have stopped preaching when he was nearly stoned to death in Lystra on his first missionary journey. He would have doubted God or his salvation while languishing in a Roman prison.

If he was a Word of Faith Prosperity adherent, Paul might have wondered what he was doing wrong when he wrote this:

2 Cor 11:23-29
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
NIV

If Paul were a believer in the Prosperity message, he sure couldn’t have written this: Phil 4:11-13
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
NIV

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Found this great video clip from Desiring God over on the Heart of Flesh blog… very accurate and very scary; his examples are historical, but it doesn’t take a lot of searching to see this playing out in the present day.  John Piper is pointing out that the bible tells us that false teachers will be nice guys: very likeable, very charismatic, very flattering.  This might be a good time to remember too that the the devil is an angel of light.

Why do we think that false teachers will be offensive and contrary?  The opposite will be true according to the bible.

Anyway, watch the clip, and be wary the next time you see a guy who is not preaching the Gospel but wins so many over to his charming personality.  There’s nothing wrong with having a winning personality and a good demeanor– we should all strive for such a thing.  But let’s not be deceived by false teaching just because the teacher is a nice guy.

http://heartofflesh.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/false-teachers-are-nice-guys/

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I don’t golf very much… probably twice in the last 5 years. As a result (or maybe as a cause), I’m not very good at it. Oh, I can get the ball down the fairway and into the hole, it just usually takes me twice as many swings as the average golfer. I would have given up playing at all a long time ago except for one evil phenomenon I’ve noticed in golf.

You could be having a really bad game, missing everything. Shanking the ball, hitting it into the water, losing it in the woods, jeopardizing the life of innocent bystanders. You’re just about ready to give up for good. Then… WHACK. You hit the ball just right. The way that Tiger Woods does every time. The way that a good golfer does half of the time. But the way that a bad golfer like me does only once in about 200 swings. You hit the sweet spot. The club makes that cool metallic ring, the ball does that graceful arch, your lie is such that you just might get par if you don’t 5-putt. It’s exhilarating.

It’s enough to keep you going for another 200 swings. All those bad shots are forgotten in the bliss of that one really good hit. The sweet spot hit is enough to keep you going.

I have found that this also happens in the ministry. We are engaged in a spiritual battle in the ministry. We are also dealing with people (and even if they are Christians, they are still people with all that goes with that). We are also very stressed out most of the time. It’s very easy to get discouraged in the ministry, to get burned out, to get stressed out, to get downright depressed. We get disappointed when the folks we are ministering to fall back into sin, when they fight amongst themselves, when they obsess about trivial things like the color of the carpet, when they demand too much from us and our families. Sometimes it seems like our sermons are not even being heard, that our counsel is being ignored, that our efforts to advance the Kingdom of God are for naught. Negative people get you down and people that you thought were friends hurt you. There are some days when you just want to give up.

Then… every once in a while… but often enough to keep you in the game… you hit that sweet spot. Something will just click to remind you that you are making a difference. That even though your place in the battle might be a small one, it is vitally important for the sake of the spiritual war. Something will come along that will remind you why you are in the ministry and why you need to keep going.

I had a sweet spot incident this week. There’s a guy in the church who had not made that decision to become a Christian yet. He’s a wonderful guy with a wonderful wife who serves diligently in the church. He’s had a lot of health concerns which made us worry even more about his salvation. A leader in the church and I went to see him this weekend to share our love and concern with him and to share the Gospel. He listened attentively but made no decision.

Then, the next week he calls out of the blue and says that he’s ready to become a Christian. We baptized him on Wednesday with his whole family present. That’s a sweet spot event. It reminded me of why we are here. It’s for those times when a resistant person gives their life to Jesus, when a sinner comes home, when someone “gets” something that we’ve been trying to teach, when someone quotes a point from a sermon back to you and tells you that it helped them in a difficult moment. It’s that reminder that God did not call us to be successful but to be faithful.

I consider the stress and aggravation that we ministers sometimes go through in the ministry as the price that we pay in order to be able to be there when these sweet spot things come around. Jesus had to put up with Peter’s bumbling but was no doubt proud when he heard Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost with 3,000 or so getting baptized. My minister saw me resist the Gospel for a long time before I made that call to him asking if I could be baptized that next Sunday.  I was glad that for whatever reason this beloved man decided to respond and obey to the Gospel to become a Christian.

Thank God for those Sweet Spot moments.

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You might think of this as a follow-up to my “Jealousy Card” post. It seems that whenever someone points out the error of a well-known preacher or church– either in doctrine or practice– someone is quick to jump up and accuse the criticizer of jealousy. That’s such a lame charge to make and does nothing to advance the discussion; if you can’t defend the person on the merits of their doctrine or practice then playing the “jealousy card” is just a cop-out.

That being said, the next question is, “Is there any point to pointing out when preachers or churches are using bad doctrines or methods”? In the case of really well-known ministries it’s not too hard to find information (especially if they are all over the secular media), and it only stands to reason that it is the bigger, more public ministries that are going to be in the limelight and subject to more criticism and scrutiny. We are seeing a lot of growth here at the little church that I minister at. Percent-wise it’s a huge increase (in a day when many small churches are declining rapidly), but a 20% increase in a church of 100 is only 20 people. Let’s just say that Larry King is not going to be calling me the next time I put out a newsletter and 60 Minutes has not shown up with their cameras. The bigger you are, the more scrutiny and criticism you are going to face. But there seem to be some online ministries that do little more than to troll the web and press releases to find churches that are doing things that are wrong. Are they wrong to point out things that are, in their opinion, bad teaching or bad practice? After all, we might say that it is not anyone’s business what another preacher or ministry is doing and that we should just focus on our ministry-field and leave everyone else alone.

Yet, within reason, I think there is validity in pointing out when someone is teaching something that is wrong or is doing things that are unbiblical. Yes, we should be careful to make sure that our criticism is loving and is not motivated by things like jealousy or unwarranted suspicion (though I really think that jealousy is rarely the motivation for criticism in ministry… at least not to the extent that people make it out to be). Here are some of the reasons:

  • It is biblical. Biblical to criticize? You bet it is. The main thrust of the Old Testament prophets was in pointing out false teaching and false practices. And they were primarily criticizing their fellow Israelites, not the pagans. It was syncretism– the mixing of true religion with false religion– that caused the downfall and exile of Israel. It was false teaching that led the people away from God, it was false practices that God detested. Is there an equivalent to teaching people to worship idols so that people could have bigger crops in the OT and teaching people to worship the “Almighty Dollar” in modern times? I think so. Is there an equivalent to teaching people to commit sexual sins by worshiping fertility idols in the OT and using sex to get people into church in modern times? Could be. The prophets railed against the false teaching and false practices of false prophets on their time.
  • That’s Old Testament, what about the New Testament? Most of the New Testament is an indictment against false teaching and false practices. Jesus spoke strongly against the Pharisees who were teaching false things about God and imposing false practices in their worship. Was Jesus just “jealous” of the large Temple with all its gold and the Priests and Teachers of the Law who were doing so well? I think NOT. Yet much of his ministry was spent speaking against their false teaching and practices. The epistles abound with condemnation against false teaching and false practices… in some cases the false teachers were even singled out by name. Were Peter and Paul and John just jealous of these false teachers who were so good at getting rich off their false gospel and ability to con “weak-willed women”? I think NOT. I would much rather see a pagan fill a building with thousands of “converts” than someone who claimed to be a Christian yet was preaching and teaching something false… at least their followers would not be false converts to the saving Gospel. All throughout the bible we read condemnation and criticism against false teachers and their false practices.
  • Next, we have a right, indeed an obligation, to point out when prominent ministries and ministers are misrepresenting the Gospel. Like it or not, the secular world is going to make judgments about the body of Christ based on prominent ministers. That’s why a scandal involving a well-known preacher is so devastating. If I were to preach a false gospel or have a moral failing here in my small church in my small town there will be little impact on the culture outside this region. A former youth minister here in Northern Kentucky was just arrested for taking sexual liberties with a 14 year old girl… did you hear about it in California or South Africa? I doubt it, he was from a small church in a small town. But when Ted Haggard slipped up it made national and world news. The guys who are broadcast around the world, who represent the church at large (willingly or not) in the news, on Larry King, on 60 Minutes, on the bookshelves, and in the cultural consciousness have an obligation to represent the Gospel and the practice of the church accurately and if they don’t we have an obligation to point out that what they are teaching is not biblical. Let’s face it, there are some names that are household names even in non-Christian homes and people will think that what they say must be true simply because they have so much media attention. If I preach falsely I affect less than 200 people. If a mega-minister preaches falsely he (or she) is affecting millions of people (and probably the 200 people that I minister directly to).
  • We are called to test the spirits and discern if someone is preaching another Gospel than the one that we have learned, which is no gospel at all. In our post-modern day and age it is tempting to shrug our shoulders and say that whatever people want to believe is their business. But we don’t have that luxury as Christians. I appreciate those who spend time discerning false teachers because inevitably I will have people asking me if the latest fad in Christianity is legitimate or not. I can’t just encourage them to believe whatever makes them happy. It’s either the Gospel or it is no gospel at all.
  • We need to be warned of things that we might be tempted to imitate in our local churches. Let’s face it, many smaller churches follow the lead of the more prominent churches. How many of us imitated the Prayer of Jabez, 40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days of Community, the Sex Sermon series, Servant Evangelism, the Seeker-Driven model, etc. How many of us use pre-packaged sermons or do a sermon series on a best-selling book? How many of us are wearing Hawaiian shirts in the pulpit? (And no, I’m not saying that any of these things are good or bad, just using the example of imitated things). There is nothing new under the sun, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, and a bunch of other cliches. With so much cross-pollination of ideas it is a good thing to have people pointing out the things that ought NOT to be imitated. There have been many things that I have seen that seem innocuous until I’ve read more about them from the discernment guys. And since any good minister is going to be looking for ways to preach the Gospel to as many people as possible, it is tempting to imitate the practices of other ministries that are packing the house… not out of jealousy, but out of a desire to grow the Kingdom of God. So, it’s a good thing when someone points out that a teaching or a practice has harmful “side effects”… it makes us stop and consider if we want to do whatever it takes to fill a building or whatever is pleasing and honoring to God. We appreciate it when the government warns us of tainted meat, shouldn’t we appreciate it when people warn us of tainted doctrine? At least in the church you have the right to do a “voluntary recall” if you want.
  • Finally, there is one church. Yes, what some guy does in a church in another state has very little direct affect on my little corner of the world (unless they are publishing books and broadcasting their message into my home). Yet, we are all in this together and on the same team. I am not being loving if I just look the other way when there is false teaching or false practice, especially since my silence will be a tacit approval to the world to the false teaching. It’s a shame when the hardest criticism I’ve heard against prosperity theology came from Larry King and not from our so-called “evangelical leaders”. We know that there is going to be wheat and tares in the church, and while it is not our job to weed out the tares, it is our job to look for false teachers and to expose them. We who are leaders in the local church are called to be shepherds and that means we sound the alarm when there are wolves in the flock. The world really is flat today and whereas the actions of a minister in another part of the country might not have affected my little church 100 years ago, in this day of mass-publishing, internet, and world-wide media broadcasting, it does. What is taught in a church in North Dakota does affect a church in Maine… especially if that church in North Dakota is being broadcast around the world.

So, yes, there is a place in the church for careful discernment. Sure, we have to be careful that our motives are right (and that involves a lot of soul-searching), that our words are loving, and that our criticism is biblically-based. In the long run we will not be able to stop false preaching and false practices, but at least we can follow the lead of the Prophets and Apostles in pointing out false doctrine.

I’m not a discernment ministry blogger or minister. I don’t go out of my way to root out false teachings or false practices… I just don’t have that kind of time. I don’t make it a point to focus in on the questionable practices or teaching of some of the better known ministries out there, though I might preach against their false doctrine or practices. I point out in my little blog here when I read something that I find personally distasteful, but that’s just me spouting my opinion (which is what the blog-world is predicated on, and is no different than me pointing out a book, movie or sports team I don’t care for). I know that there is a danger that our criticism could be seen by the unbelieving world as infighting (though, if we are pointing out FALSE teacher it is not really IN-fighting). Yet, for all those caveats, I really appreciate the discernment ministry guys for pointing out when the emperor has no clothes, or when the false prophet is in our midst. I don’t always agree with them and often roll my eyes when I think they are making much ado about nothing, but more often than not they are pointing out things that deserve to be pointed out.

We do have to be very careful that our criticism does not become sin, but there is a point in pointing out error.

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