Category Archives: Jesus

Don’t Label Me a Heretic Until You Give This Some Thought

I wrote the following words in September of 2010, nearly nine years ago. Since that time, my path has led me away from what you might call the traditional church and to involvement with a home church. When I discovered this article, I thought it was interesting because it provides the seed that germinated into what I do today with church.

I have been in church all my life. My father was a pastor, and back in the early days, the church nursery was in the sanctuary, on my mother’s lap. The first church building, very early in my memory, was in a Quonset hut that doubled as a mechanic’s garage during the week. In case you don’t know, a Quonset hut was developed by the Navy during World War II as a prefabricated structure that could be erected by unskilled labor. After the war, the surplus buildings were sold for $1,000 each, and many are still standing to this day. If you remember the barracks buildings on the old Gomer Pyle television show, you have seen a Quonset hut.

I was taught from the beginning that church was a special thing, a very good thing, regardless of the meeting place. Church has always been where I found my friends. It has always been church folks who have most cared for me, prayed for me, provided for my needs, and helped me to grow up, and continue to help me grow in my faith. I met my wife at church and together we have spent countless hours serving Jesus by serving the church.wyliffe

For many years I was the pastor of a church, and for many years I have worked as a church consultant. I have been in numerous churches of all types and sizes. Just a couple of weeks ago I met a young seminary student named Jeremiah from Colorado. When I asked about his home church, he spoke of one that my parents had helped to start several years before he was even born. I have preached in his home church and told him that I knew their building originally was constructed as a duplex and later transformed into a church meeting place. It is a small world sometimes.

I have worshipped with churches that met in storefronts, former restaurants, school auditoriums, a daycare center, homes, tents, a former shopping mall (I’m not kidding), a high rise office building, the back of a print shop, and just about any type of structure imaginable. Christians have been very creative, and that is a good thing. I have also worshipped in beautiful, elaborate structures, filled with Christian symbols and stained glass windows. I have preached in large auditoriums where most folks watched me on a screen, and just recently I preached in a church that had no need for a sound system of any kind. Once I even preached to more than 7,000 people in a convention center.

I have worked with churches that were pastor-led, deacon-led, family-led, and poorly led. I have been immediately challenged about a point I made in a sermon, thrown out of a funeral, had a chicken slammed on my desk in the pastor’s office, listened to name calling and accusations during committee meetings, lied to, threatened, asked to referee a business meeting and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember. I have even left a church service early because I was afraid they were going to drag me up front and try to heal me. Just about the time I think I have seen everything at church, something else happens.

Through it all and in spite of it all – I love the church. I have given my life to the church, and it saddens me to ever see a church struggle. I cannot comprehend how disgruntled pastors or angry church members can viciously destroy a church.

I say all of the aforementioned things because I have a lingering question in my mind about the church that I think is important. First, I will state the question and then I will explain why I am asking. The question – should we invite lost people to church?

Your first reaction will be the same as mine, “Of course we should, that is what it is about.” That is what we have always been taught. The church has been given the Great Commission, to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel. Since I can first remember, I have understood the importance of inviting my lost friends to attend church with me. If they come, they will hear about Jesus and get saved. Even if I can’t muster the courage to bear a personal witness, at least I can invite them to church with me on Sunday. Church is where people go in order to be saved.

But, is that the way it should be? When the church gathers on Sunday morning, is the purpose to provide an evangelistic event?

That seems to be the way it is in most evangelical churches. I know some preachers who refuse to close a service without offering an invitation for salvation, even if nothing in the entire gathering led up to such an invitation. The reason this has become an issue for me is I have been doing considerable thinking about the way we do church nowadays. There are some trends in the church that disturb me, and probably you. Especially disconcerting is the move toward making church entertaining. Simultaneously, we have emphasized the importance of making church a comfortable place that meets everyone’s needs. For example, the idea of having church without state-of-the-art childcare is considered heresy.

Don’t bail out on me yet because I want to offer a thought. We all would agree theologically that the church consists of believers, followers of Christ. We have been told from childhood days that the church is not a building, it is people. When believers get together, it is essentially a gathering of the church, or in modern terminology – a church service. As believers, we desire to gather with other believers for the purpose of encouragement, prayer, strengthening, admonition, and just because we like to be with people we love.

I frequently wish the New Testament recorded more of the history of the early church, so I wonder what the gatherings of those first believers were like. They were a persecuted lot, so they often met in secret. To attend one of these meetings meant that you were serious about your commitment to Christ. They probably did not bring non-believers. First, why would they want to come and risk potential persecution? Second, it was probably not possible to trust unbelievers. Evangelism most likely took place in their homes, markets, street corners, and other gathering places.

Consequently, when the church (believers) gathered, it was for the purpose of worship, sharing the Lord’s Supper, instruction, fellowship, giving an offering (I had to get that one in there based on 1 Corinthians 16:2), and encouragement. If it was a gathering of believers, there was no need for evangelism. If I am correct that it would have been rare for non-believers to attend a church gathering, there was no need for evangelism. If that is the purpose for the gathering of the church, why do we structure our current church gatherings around the purpose of evangelism?

Before you go off screaming and accusing me of being some type of liberal heretic, let me hasten to add that I believe evangelism is an extremely important, even crucial task of the church. My question concerns the evangelism that occurs when the church gathers for what we normally call “worship,” the term we generally use to describe our Sunday morning gatherings. Is that the place for evangelism? If it is, when do believers get to experience the things that are only for believers – worship, Lord’s Supper, instruction, fellowship, giving an offering, and encouragement (see previous paragraph).

Perhaps this is why we have “worship wars” and worry about being offensive by passing the offering plate. I am not suggesting that we do not have evangelistic gatherings. However, they will probably look much different than gathering as the church. At such a rally it would be appropriate to be entertaining, relevant, non-offensive, motivating, exciting, and appealing. We could blanket zip codes with postcards, advertise with slick campaigns, preach sexy sermons, and all those things that are not necessary for the existing church family.

The church gathers because we are the church. Sometimes we will want to conduct special evangelistic events. However, we will probably discover that evangelism is more effective in our homes, markets, street corners, and other gathering places (again, see previous paragraph).

The concern I have for the church is that we are building these huge churches (I don’t know, but there are probably 25 mega-churches within Sunday morning driving distance of my house), but the number of people actually attending church each week is decreasing. Go figure! If it is true that true believers will gather with other believers and the number of folks gathering together is decreasing, our evangelism is not working. We are probably just reshuffling the deck and losing cards in the process.

It is hard, probably impossible, to plan a worship experience that is meaningful for believers and also appealing to non-believers. It is stressful as a pastor to create a sermon that speaks to the saved and lost at the same time. It is unlikely that we need to communicate the same things to folks who have different priorities, different destinies, and different lords. It may be time to rethink how we are doing this whole thing; at least I am going to continue thinking about it myself.

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The War on Christmas is Over

The U.S. war with Japan came to an abrupt end when two powerful bombs were dropped on the island nation, and thousands were killed. It was unmistakable that the only alternative to surrender was death. Some wars end that way—with a big bang. Other times, wars just kind of fizzle out. People look around and realize there is no longer any reason to fight.

There has been an enormous amount of talk the past few years about the War on Christmas. To be totally honest, the only ones I hear talking about it are a few sour headed Christians who seem to be upset that the rest of the world doesn’t celebrate Christ at Christmas. Apparently, Happy Holidays don’t belong in their world.War on Christmas

I started to think about this so-called “War on Christmas,” and it dawned on me that the war is already over. I looked around and paid attention to the evidence, and sure enough, it appears the Christians have lost the war.

As an observer of culture, this is my list of evidence that Christians have lost the War on Christmas:

  1. Christmas Eve services at church begin as early as 1:00, or in some cases this year, on Sunday the 23rd. If I’m not mistaken, the word “eve” refers to the evening before an event. Anything that happens before 6:00 pm on the 24th is not an evening event. Of course, the reason we start so early is that people have too much other stuff to do on Christmas Eve—Santa is on the way. A Christmas Eve service in the early afternoon is like an Easter Sunday service on Saturday—oh wait, some already do that as well.
  2. The highlight of Christmas is not Christ but giving gifts to one another. Use all the metaphorical language you like, but the bottom line is that giving gifts to one another at Christmas is not a representation of God’s gift to us.
  3. Jesus is an extremely minor part of the way we do Christmas. Most of our attention is given to family, decorations, food, gifts, shopping, and all the other stuff that fills our malls our family rooms.
  4. Church Christmas programs are over in early December because people don’t have time as Christmas day draws near.

If you think that Christians haven’t already lost the War on Christmas, you are like the Japanese soldiers found hiding in island caves two decades after Hiroshima. You haven’t heard the news that we surrendered years ago. Before you post that next meme about the War on Christmas, make sure Christ is more than an afterthought during your celebration.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Is It Fact or Fiction?

I confess. I got hooked on watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” the past two seasons. I’m not sure of the original attraction, especially since it’s a hard show to watch. I don’t mean the acting or production is terrible; what I mean is that the story is painful to accept. For some, it seems like the setting is too far-fetched to suggest the possibility, but it is possible to see strands of realism flowing throughout the setting and plot.

Margaret Atwood who wrote the story that inspired the TV show said that she had a rule in place as she wrote. She did not “include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” In other words, she wasn’t making this stuff up. She merely rearranged attitudes and events that already exist and bundled them together in a new story.

Perhaps that explains my fascination with the show. To be honest, as I watched, I kept seeing the fringes of fundamentalist Christianity. Listen to how Atwood described the Nation of Gilead which is the setting for the story:

The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights—all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)Handmaid

            It’s almost as if the story is ripped from the headlines as they say. The underlying premise is that men seize control over women. Look at the current issues as they are dealt with in Gilead.

  • Abortion – In Gilead, men determine how and when a woman becomes pregnant. A woman does not even have access to birth control without a man’s approval.
  • Children – In Gilead, children are separated from their parents and given to those who are more deserving. After watching what our government did recently with immigrant children is it far-fetched to see something like this happening. The Attorney General even defended the practice by quoting Scripture.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault – The lot of a Handmaid is to be raped by the man of the house where she has been assigned. If she is fortunate to become pregnant, she is removed from the child once the baby is weaned. There was no “metoo” movement in Gilead.
  • Subjugation of Women – The nation of Gilead is divided into various castes, and in each class, the women are subservient to the men in that level. This is not unlike many fundamentalist Christian churches today. They allow the Pastor’s wife to be considered an “equal” with her husband, but she is not equal in the sense of function or authority. A favorite Scripture is that there is “neither male nor female” in Christ except when it comes to function within the church.
  • Streets are patrolled by heavily armed guards. Several times they shoot and kill those who step out of line. How often do we hear similar stories today – a man killed by police for being in the wrong place, being somewhere he should not have been.

All this is happening under the guise of God’s Word. When the commander was raping his handmaid (with his wife’s assistance I might add), he quoted Genesis 30, “When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, Give me children or I’ll die!”

When one of the handmaids is being disciplined by holding her hand over a hot stove, an allusion is made to I Peter 5:10, “…but only in suffering will you find grace…”

At a marriage ceremony the words recorded in Genesis, “be fruitful and multiply” are cited as the primary focus of marriage.

As I watch the show, I can’t help but see a possible future for our “Christian” world. I also choose to use the word in quotes like Atwood because I see much of what is happening today under the banner of Christ as being abhorrent to Jesus.

The TV show has already gone past Atwood’s novel, which I’m also reading. For the sake of my own sanity, I hope the current writers choose to bring in a happy ending. However, I’m not sure how that can happen without a complete revolution taking place in Gilead. Perhaps there’s also a lesson for our nation about what has to happen before we can expect everything to be fine in the end.

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Faith Healers

Anyone who knows anything about me is aware that I am physically handicapped. As a consequence of a bout with polio, I have spent my entire life walking on crutches or sitting in a wheelchair. I’m not saying that because I want sympathy—I don’t need or want it. I refer to my physical condition to indicate that I have some experience with the subject at hand.

My mother told me a long time ago that it would break her heart when I saw a preacher named Oral Roberts on TV healing people. She told me that she couldn’t help me understand why that kind of healing never happened for me. If healing was the result of prayer, then something was wrong because I know my parents prayed endlessly for me.

When I was a teenager, a group of friends insisted that I go to a revival meeting with them in downtown Denver. The preacher was a man named Morris Cerullo. I had never heard of him, but apparently, he had a reputation for healing people. I wasn’t too excited, but I went with them. When we arrived at the arena, we couldn’t get in because the crowd was too large. Perhaps if my friends had been more like the men who cut through the roof to get their friend around their crowds to see Jesus, things might have turned out differently for me.Faith Healers

As I came to recognize God’s call to the ministry, one of the biggest challenges I faced was my physical limitations. Friends encouraged me in different ways. Some assured me that God would provide and make it possible. A few others suggested that it meant God was going to heal me and allow me to walk. That would have been quite a jump start to ministry.

While in college to prepare, some well-meaning friends organized a special prayer meeting for my healing. They gathered around me as I sat in a chair and we all prayed. I can honestly say that as far as possible, I believed. I remember thinking it was important that I take the first step, so I mustered up as much strength as possible in my legs and tried to stand. Instead, I fell to the floor.

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The Danger of a Christian Nation

Our current President’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again.” Many Christians jumped on board because they understood it to mean, “Make America Christian Again.” This belief is based on the notion that when America was a Christian nation, it was a great nation.

We need to be careful in hoping for a Christian nation. It’s been tried before, and it doesn’t turn out well for the church.Christian Natioin

The early church was born in a very unchristian environment. In fact, our founder was put to death by political leaders in an effort to stop the movement. If you’ve read the New Testament, you know it didn’t work out that way. Within a very short time, we are told how new converts were added every day until it became the talk of the town.

The church continued to thrive in that hostile political environment for decades. In fact, it turned very hostile when Roman Emperors tried to eliminate it entirely by killing as many professed Christians as possible. The church continued to thrive.

Finally, a Roman Emperor, Constantine became a Christian. He probably didn’t really. More likely it was a political move, but you can read that history for yourself. It’s reminiscent of how our current President has used Christians as a political tool.

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We Need to Demand Better

Last week the Texas Rangers played the Los Angles Angels in California. One game ended when a Ranger slid into the Angel’s shortstop trying to break up a double play. It was a hard slide, and the infielder received a small cut from the runner’s spikes. The crowd was angry, and a fight almost broke out.

The next night, that infielder who had been cut by the runner’s spikes, slid into the Ranger infielder in an attempt to break up a double play. The crowd once again came to life; not with anger this time, but with glee. The attitude among baseball fans is if your guys does it then it’s a dirty play. If our guy does it, then it’s just good hard baseball.

The same attitude prevails in politics.

One of the issues of discussion floating around social media this week was the crude, racist remark made by TV actress Roseanne. This was followed up a couple of days later by a similarly crude, hateful remark made by Samatha Bee on her TV show. Let me begin my discussion by listing what I see as similarities with the comments and then the differences.

Similarities:samatha bee

  • Both were inappropriate
  • Both were expressions of anger and hate
  • Both were public
  • Both were directed toward a public figure
  • Both are the kind of things we don’t want our children to say
  • Both were made by women who have a history of making crude comments
  • Both apologized within hours of making the comment

Differences:

  • One had racial implications, the other did not
  • One was made within the context of a TV show, the other was on personal time
  • One was made by a Republican, the other by a Democrat
  • One resulted in immediate loss of job, the other didn’t

Arguments Made:

  • The apology by one was more sincere than the other
  • One only apologized because she lost her job
  • The racial comment was worse because it was directed against a whole race
  • The other side is unfair toward my side
  • One has a longer history of saying terrible things

I’m sure you could come up with more under each category. But, here’s the thing that disturbs me. It’s not surprising that Republican-leaning folks are supportive of their teammate, and it’s not surprising that Democrat preferring folks are supporting theirs. I expect that; in fact, I would be shocked if that were not the case.

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Conundrum

I posted this article five years ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant. 

It has been nearly a month since the terrible tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut and the debate over gun control is still raging. That is a good thing because it is a discussion this country needs to have. However, like with many other issues in this country (abortion, gay marriage, federal deficit, taxes, et. al.), we have a difficult time with discussion. Most of us simply fortify our current beliefs and try to shout louder than those who believe differently.

One of the culprits in this inability to discuss issues is that we have lost the art of compromise. When two sides are unwilling to make any compromise then we are wasting our time trying to negotiate anything. When everything is either right or wrong, black or white, then we have no room to give, even an inch. Often, Christians are the worst. Since we believe that we hold the corner on all truth then anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong. If you have the “right” position on an issue, compromise would be foolish.

Now, before we dive into the issue of gun control, I need to state my own bias. I am not a gun fan. I do not own any guns. There is a handgun out there somewhere registered in my name but it was stolen years ago (a long story). I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the police knock on my door and say a gun registered to me was used in a crime (although I hope not). I witnessed a man accidentally shot by policeman’s handgun many years ago but it was only a minor injury. I have never fired a gun other than a BB gun. For several years I worked at a police department but I never got comfortable even though I was surrounded by guns.conundrum

Our family did not have any hunters. My father was not an outdoorsman. We never talked about guns and I have always suspected it was because of his war experiences. He saw enough killing to last a lifetime. But I have never been an advocate of banning guns completely. I understand the sporting use of guns for hunting and recreation. That is the sum total of my experience with guns.

When it comes to the debate about gun control, the most basic starting point of agreement is that all of us, unless you are an extreme radical, believe in gun control up to a certain point. In other words, if there was absolutely no gun control, we would have inner city gangs and redneck militias walking around with rocket launchers and other methods of mass killing. The question is not do we want to control guns but where do we draw the line.

Before choosing up sides on the issue, let me advance the notion that there are really two foundations that determine our decision making. It is a problem because United States Christians find themselves with a foot on both foundations. Let me try to explain.

As a citizen of this nation, it is important to protect our rights and fulfill our obligations. It is frequently and perpetually pointed out that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. If the criterion for decision making is the necessity to protect constitutional rights, it is hard to argue for gun control. All the arguments citing self-defense, hunting, maintaining order, protection against tyranny, and others make a good point if you are a citizen of this country.

On the other hand, as a Christian, our source of authority for making decisions is not what is good for this country. We live as residents of another kingdom and we arrange our lives according to a different standard. Consequently, if we make a decision based solely on God’s Word, it is possible (and quite likely) we will come to a different conclusion than if our sole criterion is our United States citizenship.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many Christians are passionate in their stand against any type of gun control. My concern is that they make the same arguments made by non-believers – self-defense, citizen rights, constitutional provisions, etc. I have been a student of the Bible for many years and I have a difficult time finding much justification for being so adamant about owning a gun.

Jesus spoke of loving our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, turning the other cheek, laying down our lives. Historically, His followers have been persecuted, even to the point of torture and death, without fighting back. I don’t like it and I will be honest, my human inclination is to fight back when confronted. Turning the other cheek and giving up my “rights” is not easy. I can understand the urge to fight to protect those we love. I get that!

But I can’t envision Jesus “packing heat.” I understand some will point to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36 where He instructed His disciples to sell their coat and go purchase a sword if they did not have one. That would make a pretty strong statement if that is all He said. However, I don’t know of any reputable biblical scholar who would use this verse to advocate having an armed citizenry. (For a thorough discussion on this verse read here.) When one of His disciples actually used a sword in self-defense, Jesus told him to put it away with the warning that those who use a sword will die by a sword.

Without going into a protracted theological discussion and biblical exposition, I will simply say that I can’t find any justification for followers of Jesus having weapons with the purpose of harming others. I am not talking about guns that are used for hunting or even for sport, but to carry weapons around in our vehicles or strapped to our belts just in case we need to shoot someone (or even scare them off), does not seem like a justifiable position for a servant of Jesus. (For a good discussion about Christians and self-defense read here.) Personally, I have no problem with military or police who are armed, even if they are Christians. They are acting as agents of the state, which has been given permission by God to avenge evil (see Romans 13).

So, here is the conundrum faced by believers who are also citizens of the United States. Is our source of authority going to be the U.S. Constitution or the Word of God? In most instances, they are not at odds with one another, and we should rejoice when we can live consistently with both. However, when they are, we must make our decision carefully. When we chose to follow Christ, it was a choice that superseded any other authority in our lives. It was a choice to give up our rights and claims and to follow Him only.

My non-Christian neighbor may have the right to arm himself in self-defense. However, do I have that same right to keep a weapon around the house for the sole purpose of killing another person if necessary to protect my family and my stuff? Does my choice to follow Jesus override my freedom to be armed?

I don’t know how to guarantee that another school shooting will never occur again and I am pretty confident no one else does either. I hope the discussion of the issue continues and I pray our politicians will find the wisdom to make good choices along with the courage to make difficult decisions. I also hope that as followers of Jesus we can make a clear statement that His way is often much different from the ways of the world.

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