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Posts from March 2011

There's No Spiritual Carpool Lane

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine showed me a clip of Francis Chan speaking at at RightNow Conference. Chan is best known as a pastor and author of books such as Crazy Love and Forgotten God.

In this clip, Chan, shares about the meeting he had with a church member who was a little frustrated that Chan didn't seem to understand that all Christians weren't radical.

Take a look at the clip.  It's only a few minutes long. . .

"Jesus Says is a totally different game."

It seems so clear when Francis says this, but it's a pretty hard-hitting message. We have way too many Christians who think Christianity is about being a member of a church, giving a donation every now and then and showing up once or twice a week to hear some music and an inspirational talk.

Wow. How far we've fallen from where we've been called.

Why People Don't Like Church

About a week ago, a discussion arose in our Foundations class regarding corporate worship. The need for believers to come together in worship is biblical, even though some like to minimize it or call it a traditional trend.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

The passage speaks of the vitality of coming together with other believers. This may be for study or fellowship, but primarily is for worship. There is value in corporate worship.

Sad people The act of coming together regularly and worshipping as the church is normative behavior for believers. (Makes you question the over 50% of Baptist church "members" who haven't darkened the door of their church for decades, doesn't it?")

We also discussed how our view of the weekend services may be wrong. Too often, we see it as a time to be prepared for the following week, and that's a good reason to come, but even more, it should be a time where we, as brothers and sisters in Christ can gather to celebrate all that God has done in our lives the previous week. Even when the previous week has been terrible, maybe even a week where we've fallen and sinned greatly, it's a time of healing and celebration that can remind us of whose we are and who we are.

So, the question came up "Why don't people attend church?" We received a number of answers. I saw an article in USA Today from a few years ago that showed some interesting things.

  • 38% stated they strongly agree that there is only one God and He is the one described in the Bible
  • 39% strongly agree that the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.  This is interesting, because if so many strongly agree that the God from the Bible is real as described, they obviously aren't reading the Bible or they would not be stating that He is the same as all other spiritual gods in world religions.
  • 53% strong believe that Christianity today is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.
  • 44% state they somewhat or strongly agree that Christians get on their nerves.

Like any survey, these points can be manipulated to say what the surveyor wants to emphasize.

In our unofficial survey of believers in attendance last Wednesday, I heard the following reasons as to why people don't like to attend church:

  • Don't have time. Way too busy.
  • All the pastor talks about is money.
  • I don't believe in organized religion.
  • All the people in the church are hypocrites.
  • I can worship God alone. I don't need the church.
  • Some don't want to have to face the truth about themselves.
  • Some don't want to hear about sin and the need for repentance.
  • Some feel they will be ostracized or looked down upon.

Some have good reasons for not attending church.

  • Some churches don't teach and preach the truth.
  • Some churches don't value the Word of God.
  • Some churches focus more on psychology or "feel-good" messages.
  • Some churches are boring.
  • Some are stuck so far in the past, so steeped in tradition and ritual that people cannot see the relevance in what is preached or taught.
  • Some churches have forsaken the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a message that is more in line with the political correctness of the day. These types of messages have no life-changing power. 
  • Many avoid churches because those they have attended have nothing real to offer and leave them with more questions than answers.

All this being said, the truth of the matter is that most people avoid church because they have not seen any real difference in the lives of those who do attend church. This is not an indictment of everyone who attends church, but honestly, if we lived like we should, if we lived in the transforming power of the Spirit of God, if we truly loved others as we have been called to love, others would be drawn to us, because of Christ in us, in such a way that coming together as the church would be attractive.

In reality, the newness of a church "building" wears off quickly. Those impressed with facilities will soon fade away. The people are the church. So, it's not so much of "Why don't people go to church?" but "Why do people avoid the church - the people of God?"

Oh, more surveys will be taken. Churches will develop strategies to be more welcoming and engaging, but until the people of God trust Him with all that we are and live according to His Word, things won't change very much. 

I found this video clip from Central Christian Church in Nevada. Pretty good clip addressing many common reasons people don't church.

Lessons from a Funeral

Quotes-for-grieving Today I attended a funeral for the father of a good friend. Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. passed away yesterday. I was asked to read a passage of Scripture, which I gladly did. Pastor Kevin Collison of our sister church, Island View Baptist,  led the service and brought the message. Mr. Sewell was a long-time member of Island View. Pastor Kevin did a wonderful job at bringing the truth of Christ with compassion and caring. It's evident that he loves his flock and I was honored to be able to share the pulpit with him this day.

As words were shared about Mr. Sewell's life and faith by family and friends, both on the stage and in the foyer, I was reminded of the verse in the Old Testament that speaks of days like this.

It is better to go the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will take it to heart. - Ecclesiastes 7:2 ESV

Simply put, it's a good idea to go to a funeral every now and then to be reminded about what really matters in life.

For fear of being overly pastoral with alliterations, here are three things that came into focus once again today.

Friends Matter

Mr. Sewell was 88 years old. Therefore, there were many senior adults in attendance today. These were people who had known Mr. Sewell for many years and wanted to pay their respects and show their concnern to his widow, Sally, and other family members.

These friends consistently spoke of Mr. Sewell's giving-heart and servant attitude. They were amazed at his tenacity and work ethic. You see, Mr. Sewell had served our country as an Army infantryman in World War II and as a result lost both legs. After a year in the hospital, he went to work. One friend said that he'd even mow his own lawn (without a riding mower.) Wow. 

Sometimes we wonder if we're making a difference in life. As you pour your life into others and live out the Great Commandment (Love the Lord your God. . . and your neighbors. . .) it always comes back. It's worth it.

Like many seniors in their late 80s and 90s, the crowds of peers at funeral services are not too large. This was the case for my 90+ year old grandmother. At first, it bothered me. Then, I realized she had attended most of her friends funerals. She had outlived them. 

It was great to see people in attendance today who were much younger than Mr. Sewell. These were younger people impacted by him, but also friends of his children and grandchildren. What a testimony of the power of community and friendship.

Nonetheless, friends matter. To have friends, you must be one.

Family Matters

Sometimes the ones we love the most are the ones that get the left-overs in life. It's a sobering reminder at funerals. I've been to funerals where bitterness over missed opportunties prevail. I have seen adult children overrun with guilt, break down in hospital rooms or during services when the realization that they will never get the chance to reconcile with their parents.

Today's service was not like that. Curtis's son Curtis Sewell, Jr. shared personal testimony about his father. I could see in Curtis, Jr.'s eyes the great admiration and love he has for his father. Curtis, Sr. was in the Army as I stated. One of his requests was that his son, Curtis, Jr. (who is retired Army) and other family members (namely grandchildren and grandchildren-in-law) who are serving in the military wear their uniforms. It was a fitting tribute to a man who loved his God, his family and his country. It was inspiring to see these men in uniform solely to honor their father and grandfather's wish.

There were stories about the closenes of the family. Stories from Curtis, Jr. and from grandson Curtis Allen (one humorous moment was when Pastor Kevin said "Curtis and Curtis, come share about Curtis,") spoke of lessons learned and lives touched.

Even as adults, there was a "little boy" look of admiration and love as they honored this patriarch of the family.

While no one is perfect and sometimes at funerals, the accolades seem so thick and at times contrived, this was no the case today. They were searching for good things to say. They just shared the truth from their hearts. 

It was an apparent moment of familial love.

That which was being said had not gone without saying while Mr. Sewell was still alive with us. This was not an attempt to make up for lost time.

So, lesson learned - family matters. Take the time today to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Don't presume you can tell them later. God has given you now for a reason.

Faith Matters

Of all that shines clear on a day like this, personal faith in Christ shines brightest. Curtis Sewell, Sr. has that faith (present tense used on purpose.)

We have all been to funeral services where there were great strides made to try to convince ourselves that the deceased was truly in a better place, all the while knowing there was a better chance that the person was not in heaven at all.

These are sad days. These are moments where we look back in the loved one's life for any semblance of faith or surrender to Jesus Christ. All too often, life choices and lifestyle do not match up with the claims of Christ. This makes it so very difficult for family members who are wanting to say "He's in heaven" or "He's in a better place" when deep down we are pretty sure he is not.

Today - this was not the case. There were no contrived stories to convince the crowd that Mr. Sewell is in heaven. This man had claimed a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on Christ' s payment for sin on the cross and His resurrection. Surrenduring to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and receiving the free gift of God's salvation enabled us to have a service full of hope and joy. Don't get me wrong, it's still sad. There were and will be many tears. The loss of the presence of our loved ones is difficult and part of the human story.

It's the hope we have in Christ that enables us to move forward, in peace.

Faith matters because eternity is determined by what you do with Jesus now.

Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. read his Bible often. He, like many, would underline key verses and phrases that held special meaning. Throughout his Bible, there were many marked verses. However, there was only one highlighted passage. This was the passage of Scripture I was asked to read today. It's Psalm 100 and it's called a psalm of thanksgiving. Some would say that it would be innappropriate to offer thanksgiving at a funeral, but they would be wrong. As believers, it can be a day of thanksgiving.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noice to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, He is God!

It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and the His faithfulness to all generations.

God was honored today through the life and death of Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. God's steadfast love has been shown to endure. His faithfulness, as well as the faithfulness of Curtis has been shown to all generations. To God be the glory!

To Rob Bell and Others. . .Sorry, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

It's been the buzz on the web and in media for the past few weeks and even precipitated a publisher (HarperOne) bumping up the release date of a book.

The story is about Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and his newest book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I had thought about writing about this a week or so ago, but refrained.  There have been many blogs written about it and some in our church have asked me my opinion on the book.  My contention was that since I didn't have the book and hadn't read any of it, I didn't feel I should share my opinions. Well, yesterday I received my copy in the mail. I have been reading through it and find it intriguing, but at the same time very troubling.

This firestorm began when Bell released this promo video for the book. . .

Rob Bell, in my opinion, is one of the most creative and intriguing communicators alive today. His Nooma videos are very well done. When I first saw the promo for Love Wins, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Bell is the master of asking questions and then drawing you in to discover the answer.  I was hoping that even with these questions, he was not truly leaning to the answer he is now giving.  There are obviously some doctrinal differences I have with Bell and knowing where he is coming from regarding some very key biblical and doctrinal issues will mean I cannot endorse, nor would I encourage using Bell's resources.

Lines seem to be drawn in the sand in the pastor-verse (I made that word up.)  You are either lining up with Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and maybe even Eugene Peterson (he endorsed Love Wins on the flyleaf) or Al Mohler, Joshua Harris, John Piper and Justin Taylor. It's was Piper's tweet "Farewell, Rob Bell" that really pushed this over the top.

Bell's model is to ask a lot of questions (in this book, there are at least 350 of them) but questioning is not bad, nor is it a sin.  I'm not saying you shouldn't ask questions.  Discussion about hard topics is good. In fact, Bell has it mostly right when he says. . .

I believe discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the poems of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with. . . a question.

There's truth here, though I don't know if I'd classify discussion as "divine."  That seems to minimize divinity.  However, the point is well taken - it's OK to have questions.  This, however, seems to be more than simple questioning.  In this case, as stated by Pastor Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. . .

We should not write off the provocative theology as mere question-raising. This isn't the thirteen-year-old in your youth group asking his teacher, '"How can a good God send people to hell?" Any pastor worth his covenant salt will welcome sincere questions like this.

DeYoung continues to state that Bell has a much broader impact.  He's the pastor of a huge church with a huge following and that the book is not an invitation to dialogue, but rather a pastor telling us what he thinks. By the way, there's no problem in a pastor telling what he thinks, but there is a problem when what he thinks contradicts the Word of God.  Bell, himself states that his book is "a book of responses to these questions (about heaven and hell)." This is more than sharing what he thinks, this is systematically deconstructing foundational biblical truths.

So, what's the gist of the book?  What's this all about?  As stated in the video clip above, it's the question about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?  It leads to a question regarding the reality of a place called hell.  Is it real?  Is hell what we're experiencing now?  What about heaven? How could a good God not let everyone in?  He loves us, right?

DANIEL We live in an age and culture that likes to see everyone win.  Oh, there are places where we want only one winner, like during March Madness or the Super Bowl. At these times we want one winner to take home the trophy. The losers in the championship game are often forgotten. Yet, notice what's happening in our nation in youth sports and club sports. When my children were younger, they played soccer at our local YMCA. I ended up coaching them. I really knew nothing about soccer and that was evidenced by our record those first couple of seasons. I remember one of the first seasons we played, I received my roster. I had a team of 1st or 2nd graders. Most of these kids had never played before. We were a new team, so we had all the kids who didn't know a coach. It was fun, but we lost every game. We actually scored only one goal all season and you would have thought we'd won the championship. The parents, players and coaches were all going crazy. At the end of the season we had our team party. Guess what? Every child received a trophy. Of course, we, the parents, bought them, but that's beside the point. Everyone wins! Now, I understand the motive. We host Upward Sports at our church and it is built on the premise that "Every Child Is a Winner!" and I get it, but there seems to be a subtle message out there that goes beyond youth sports. We want everyone to win. . all the time and even at the end of time.

Here's the reality. Not everyone wins. Simply put - not everyone gets to heaven.

Not everyone gets a trophy.

Rob Bell has a problem with this. Truth be told, Bell cares deeply about people. He really does. This is evidenced in his writing and messages. I have no doubt this book was written out of his great concern for people and his frustration that many have been turned off to God by the actions of His people and even the message of hell. Unfortunately, rather than stay firmly grounded in Scripture, Bell uses his great literary and communicative skills to unravel the message of Scripture and to cast doubt:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.  It's been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. (Love Wins, viii)

That's a huge statement and is very clear. Bell is saying that this doctrine of hell is what is keeping people from coming to Christ. Though unpopular in some circles, the reality of hell must be taught. I'm not saying it needs to be taught by a screaming pastor banging on his pulpit or a corner preacher with a bullhorn trying to scare people into heaven (or "scare the hell out of people" as I've heard it stated.) It must be taught as real and authentic and in love, as Jesus did and He spoke often about the reality of hell.

It's all about Jesus, right? "Love wins" means that through grace and love, God is good and great and does good things for His children. That is true, but we cannot avoid the reality that love and mercy and justice are all intertwined in the characteristics of a loving God. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminds us of this. . .

Jesus spoke very clearly about hell, using language that can only be described as explicit. He warned of "him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

The statements being made most prominently are that Bell argues for universalism. He says in interviews that he is not a universalist, yet his writings tell us otherwise. As Mohler posted. . .

His statements are more suggestive than declarative, but he clearly intends his reader to be persuaded that it is possible - even probable - that those who resist, reject, or never hear of Christ may be saved through Christ nonetheless. That means no conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. He knows that he must deal with text like Romans 10 in making this argument, "How are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14) Bell says that he wholeheartedly agrees with that argument from the Apostle Paul, but then he dumps the entire argument overboard and suggests that this cannot be God's plan. He completely avoids Paul's conclusion that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17) He rejects the idea that a person must come to a personal knowledge of Christ in this life in order to be saved.

Bell and others would say that we are too legalistic or stringent in our interpretation of Scripture. Surely, God wouldn't send anyone to hell? I agree, God doesn't send anyone to hell, but people who reject Jesus Christ or do not surrender to Him choose to be separated from God for eternity on their own and that means literally, they choose hell.  

This doesn't feel good.  People don't like talking about this. I see the avoidance of this subject at funerals. The funerals we have most of the time at our church are for believers who have lived their lives in service to the Lord. Their salvation is known.  (Yes, we can know.) Other times, the truth is there and we just don't like addressing it. We are burying bodies of people who are not in heaven. Why? Not because God is mean or unfair or evil, but because God is love and yet he is just and He has been rejected.

There are some hard realities that I fear we, as Christians, don't like to address at times.  

  • Heaven and hell are real
  • More people will be in hell than heaven (remember that narrow road illustration)
  • Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 10:10)
  • Apart from Christ, there is no hope
  • We, as believers, therefore, must share the truth of Christ with all (Matthew 28:19-20)

Not everyone gets a trophy.

Now, some are complaining that this debate over heaven and hell and doctrine is bad and putting Christians in a bad light. There is concern we're "airing our dirty laundry" in front of the world with mean-spiritedness and that those making points on doctrine are not doing so with a Christlike attitude.  While that may be the case for some, it is not the case for all and in my opinion, the discussion has to happen.

Not all doctrinal controversy is unChristlike, though sometimes it can be.

There have been some strongly worded, sober biblical critiques of Bell and his teachings. The warnings are to believers about the need for solid biblical doctrine. Call it timely, but this is why I have been teaching each Wednesday evening on doctrinal statements we hold true and beliefs we have as Christians and in particular, Baptists. Why? Because in a culture of "feel good" religion, it's easy to avoid and brush aside anything that seems too harsh, even if it's biblically accurate. This has nothing to do with tradition or practice, but the solidness of our biblical foundation.

I agree with Denny Burk, on his posting regarding this. . .

We all need to let the wisdom of the Proverbs guide how we engage in controversy (Proverbs 15:1-2; 16:21; 25:11), and we all need to be humble enough to repent when we transgress with a shrill tone (Psalm 19:14). As Spurgeon said it, "If you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections." (Lectures to My Students, 280).

This is true, and yet we must remember that to avoid the hard questions is to legitimize them. At the end of the day, this doctrinal debate must happen. Why? Because it is a key to understanding who we are in Christ and the working of the Kingdom. To be evasive on the issues causes more consternation and problems. This is one of the problems with the emergent church movement. For the past two decades or so, emerging Christianity has flourished. In the midst of the movement, the leaders have done well to avoid speaking with specificity. At first, the movement addressed some long-held traditions in some churches that, in truth, had nothing to do with the Gospel and were simply "sacred cows" from by-gone religious eras. However, upon looking more closely at the movement, through their accusations of evangelical Christianity, by and large, being overly concerned with doctrine, they have developed a Christian movement that finds itself built on the shifting sand of cultural "relevance."

Therefore, the debate must happen. 

There is a divide among professing Christians. The Enemy is loving this. Yet, this discussion cannot be avoided. This boils down to two rival understandings of the Gospel. They are at odds. They cannot both be right. 

In the end, God is still who He always has been. He is love. He is mercy. He is justice. His plan has not changed. Jesus is still the way, truth and life. Oh yeah, no one comes to the Father except through Him. 

Love wins. It won two thousand years ago three days after a crucifixion. The grave is empty. Death has been defeated. Love wins. . .through Jesus Christ.

Dads and Junior High Boys and the Healing of Our Hearts

This morning I woke up early on my day off again because I have committed to go to Lakeside Junior High School in Orange Park every Friday morning to hang out with a group called the "Gentlemen Gators."  This before-school club of over forty boys comes together to be challenged to be the men God has made them to be. Topics vary depending on the week and sometimes we have special guests. There are even work and service projects the boys do throughout the year. This group was founded by Assistant Principal John Green. A few teachers from the school (including teacher David Bradley, who will be featured in the Florida Times-Union as one of the "Ten Who Make a Difference" on the First Coast) as well as some men from our church gather each week as mentors for the boys.

After the topic of the day is introduced, often with a video illustration, the boys meet with their mentors to break it down. I have a group that varies between five and eight boys that meet with me for about ten to fifteen minutes. I hope I'm helping them. Sometimes we joke (well, we always joke around) but we always get to the point. I wonder some days if the point is being made. That's the case when teaching any junior highers, I guess.

Today's topic was "Fatherhood."

This may seem like a simple topic, but I realized immediately, it would not be.

You see, every man and boy on the planet (women and girls, too, bu this group is all boys) carries a wound deep within their hearts. This wound is called the "father wound" and comes in a variety of ways.

In my group, we began talking about this. The fact that the earthly father is the first picture a person has of who the Heavenly Father is can be troubling. Some of these children come from homes where dad is absent. Some are in single-parent homes with no contact with dad. Some are living with grandparents. Some have dad in the house, but even though he's physically there, he's emotionally absent. Others have abusive and addictive fathers. This came out in my group today. Still, there are many who have great dads. Dads who try hard to be involved and who love their boys greatly. Some are even Christians and do their very best to raise these boys up in the love of the Lord.

Still, regardless of the dad in the story, each of these boys carries a heart wound. We all do. It's natural and a result of the sin that infests our world. That's what makes God's healing touch on our hearts through Jesus that much more incredible.

I asked these guys if they knew what the burning question at the heart of every man on the planet was. They didn't. Most don't. 

The question is "Do I have what it takes?"

Every boy asks this. Every boy needs dad to say "Yes, you have what it takes!" 

Every adult man still asks this question.

Some of the boys have dads who have been laid off and are struggling to provide for their family. They're good guys, but have just become victims of the economy. I asked these boys what that situation is saying to their dads. It was like a light went off. They answered "It's like the world is saying 'You don't have what it takes.'" When a man hears this over and over, it's not long before he starts to believe it.

This led to the next question, "Where does this statement come from?" We talked about God and Satan, about good and evil, about truth and lies and how the lie from the Enemy to every man is "You don't have what it takes. . .to be a dad. . .to be a provider. . .to be a good employee. . .to be a good husband, etc."

In truth, we don't have what it takes on our own, but through Christ, we do. . .and yet we still hear the lies.

I left this morning after looking into the eyes of my boys and telling them this, "Your dad may be absent, distant, or just silent. As a dad, I can tell you that in most every case, your dad loves you deeply. However, he probably doesn't know how to say it. Oh yeah, he probably, like me, says the wrong things at times that hurt you to your core. Hear this - 'You have what it takes!' God loves you deeply and so much, in fact, He gave His Son, Jesus Christ for you. You have what it takes, through Him."

I've known of this wound, these unanswered questions, and the heart issues of men for years. Today, I was reminded how deeply this goes. I'm praying for the men and boys that God brings in my path. May there be healing. As for the ladies and girls, there are deep wounds there as well. The heart question is different, but the pain is the same.

That's why God is Father. He provides what we need. Unconditional "agape" love.

The following video was shown this morning. You've probably seen it on YouTube or Facebook. Still, take a moment to watch. Team Hoyt is about a father's love for his son, shown practically and truthfully. (Also, know that the dad was not a triathlete who invited the son into this. The question was asked by dad to son about doing something together - Rick said "Let's run a triathalon," and the story began.)