Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Church idolatry--literally

Lately I've been reading from the book of Ezekiel; an intimidating book at the best of times and at the worst just flat-out bizarre. But today something struck me full-on in the face: the Israelites idolized a building.

In Ezekiel 24:21, the Lord says, "21 Say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary-- the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword."

And there it was: it's the building that the ancient Israelites trusted in . . . the building that they loved. Not the God who dwelt there, who came close to His people through the building . . . but the building itself.

It's not that I have a problem with buildings. They are useful and convenient. But the thing that got me to thinking was how easy it is to confuse bricks and mortar with mission. To confuse the building where God's people gather with God's church. These are NOT the same things.

The ancient Israelites had come to a point where they loved the building more than the God who dwelt there. I understand how it happened. After all, the building is rich with tradition and history. It's something you can touch and see and enter into. God, on the other hand, is somewhat nebulous . . . always hiding His face . . . always working through mysterious means.

But in the end, it didn't matter. Because the Israelites had loved the earthly building instead of what it was truly supposed to represent, the only merciful thing God could do was to take it away from them so that they would know that He was The Lord. So that they would be reminded once again that He, and not a building, alone was to be worshipped.

I wonder . . . does God look into our hearts and wonder "Should I take away their building, as well?"

And what would happen if He did?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

(Dare to) Disagree with Driscoll

Let me preface what I'm about to say:

I love Mark Driscoll and admire his ministry. As a preacher, I admire how the man pulls no punches when he speaks. As a pastor, I listen closely when he speaks on effective pastoral leadership. As a Christian, I thank God for the man's podcasts and Bible teaching that feed my life (sure, there's the issue of Driscoll's Calvinist theology that I strenuously disagree with, but hey . . . no one's got absolutely perfect theology, right? Except perhaps Luther. And LC-MS Lutherans. But I digress . . . :) )

But in this article from FoxNews, I think Driscoll's got just one thing--one rather small thing--wrong.,2933,519517,00.html

Driscoll, in my opinion, is spot-on for his region of the country and where he routinely ministers. In those places (and in others), the long-useless brand of nominal, culturally-influenced "Christendom" (his term) is indeed dead. Where Driscoll serves, I believe that there is a strong distinction between authentic Christ-followers and people who formerly would have been mere church-goers . . . people who have not had a life-transforming relationship with the living God

But that's not quite as true in rural mid-America.

The Scriptures speak of people who are hearers of the Word, but not doers. In other words, people to whom the Word is preached, people who are in church regularly, but people for whom (for one reason or another) the Word has just not made a transforming impact on their lives. They consider themselves Christian, but in their minds the word means something other than what it is intended to mean: One who follows Christ. Who learns from His words. Whose life is constantly being shaped and molded, day in and day out, to resemble His.

It's these "hearers" that Driscoll calls "Christendom America." And he--rightfully so, in my opinion--rejoices over the fact that the number of people in that category are apparently diminishing nation-wide.

But again, it's a bit different story in rural mid-America. Here "Christendom America" is far from dead. Coughing, wheezing, and spluttering perhaps . . . but the beast is far from dead. Here in mid-America, far removed from cultural and urban centers, Christianity-as-culture still lives on.

There's good points to that, of course. It means that terms like "traditional morality" still mean something. That one-man, one-woman marriages for life are still kind of expected, that we're all still kind of shocked when our teens experiment with sex and/or drugs, that a good, honest day's work is still viewed as the best way to get a good, honest day's pay. Rural mid-America still has solid echoes of the simpler, easier times of the USA.

But where "Christendom America" fails, it does so completely. Because "Christendom America" uses religion and morality to innoculate people against the genuine repentance and faith of the transformed Christian. It believes that because it has the former, it can substitute it for the latter . . . and, in fact, it tragically sees no difference between the two.

So where Driscoll has the blessing of proclaiming the risen and ascended Christ to a proud and willfully pagan people, here in mid-America the pastors often fight a different battle. We fight the battle of apathy. We fight the battle of a lack of urgency. We fight the battle for souls that casually say "Lord, Lord" on Sunday, but who are woefully inadequate in Biblical knowledge, in spiritual growth, and in Christian maturity. All because they still believe that the religion and morality of "Christendom" and the transformational new life of "Christianity" are one and the same.

Yes, of course even in rural mid-America we see some of the same cultural shifts that Driscoll talks about. The fruits of the god "tolerance" and the shifting sands of relative truth impact us, as well. We do see signs that "Christendom" is dying off and that perhaps one day soon we'll be able to minister to people who at least know they are not Christian. Soon, perhaps, we'll also have the blessings that Mark Driscoll enjoys: we can stop trying to convince the casual church-goer that there is real power to be had in Christ's name and instead boldly proclaim His offer of life and salvation to those who sit in the darkness.

And I, for one, hope that day comes soon.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How come Saudi Arabia understands what we don't?,2933,519193,00.html

Okay, so this story is about a Muslim beauty pageant and adherence to Islamic morals. Okay, so I'm not just a Christian, but a Christian pastor. Okay, so obviously I'm not suggesting that Islamic morals are the definition of beauty. So just let all that drop for a moment and think about this, okay? This isn't about one religion over another, it's about an underlying truth: beauty has far more to do with what's inside than what's on the outside.

This pageant in Saudi Arabia undertands that truth. Not only understands, but celebrates it! Now contrast that with American beauty pageants. Evening gowns. Swimsuit competitions. Perfect teeth, perfect hair, bodies that are judged on whether or not they have perfect proportions . . . and just a nod--just the slightest nod--to whether or not the woman in the swimsuit has a brain or not.

In America, we celebrate outward beauty . . . but doesn't that beauty fade after a while? I mean, sure we find more and more ways all the time to stave off the inevitable, to hang on to the image of youth and beauty. And sure, as a result, we've got far more aging Hollywood stars than we've ever had before--both men and women--that are just plain knockout attractive even into their 40's, 50's, and 60's. But outward beauty alone is really not worth celebrating. A beautiful woman can still be a shrew. A ruggedly handsome man can still be angry and abusive. Despite their outward beauty, their treatment of others belies an inner ugliness that no amount of plastic surgery could ever fix.

Let me tell you something: My wife is crazy gorgeous and (if you don't mind me saying, and frankly even if you do) hotter than ever. You want to know why? Because she's beautiful on the inside, and that inner radiance shines forth. I've never met a woman who's been as dedicated and loving to her family as my wife Stephanie. I've never met a woman who's always so ready to give of herself and build into the lives of her kids. To build into the life of her husband. She's so beautiful inwardly that yeah, like that silly pageant, you could stick her into a full-body burkha and even then her beauty would still be unmistakeable.

I wish more Americans understood the value of inner beauty. I wish more men would judge women by more than their cup size or about the junk she got in her trunk. I wish more Christian women cared less about how they looked in a bikini and more about the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

So yeah, right now? I wish we could learn a little something from the Saudi Arabians. Something that God's been telling us all along, but we've been a bit too preoccupied with our outward appearance to actually listen.

Proverbs 31:30-31 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.