Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Pastor's Letter - Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 are the preceding posts. My musings are bolded.

As I mentioned to you when we met together, I spend much time and effort every week researching the text (reading a book), praying for insight, crafting the message (Looking for proof-texts, even if I have to take something out of context), choosing words and phrases carefully, and trying to develop a sermon that accurately communicates God's truth in a manner that will interest and impact the listener. (Even if it takes every bad joke I have, doggone it!) I not only labor over what to say, but how to say it. I also have my message vetted each week by three other Christian Church ministers, two of which have doctorate degrees. (Should I be impressed? Are their names Annas and Caiaphas?) These men do not pull punches when it comes to their evaluations. (So you can take criticism from them, but not those within your own congregation? They can be honest, but others don't even get a response?) I read the sermon out loud to them while they have a copy in their hands to mark and write comments on. (Maybe we should compare notes!) Then they point out anything they see that might make my sermon stronger, including phrases that could be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. (They really let you keep in that bunny joke last Easter? That was cruel of them.) That is one reason I am surprised that you have misunderstood the intended meaning of phrases, points or entire messages I have preached. (I see it more as a disagreement that a misunderstanding. I will get to posting some of my comments and maybe some will post their understandings as well.) I am trying to do everything I can to rightly handle the Word of Truth and am taking for more precautions than the average preacher in doing so. (Did you just call yourself above-average? I happen to know that 50% of all people are below average.) I have been reassured by other mature and respected Christian leaders (who happen to be my friends) that my preaching is Biblical (because I use the Bible), on target, and effective. I will always be striving to grow and improve as a preacher and follower of Jesus, but I believe I am already competent as a preacher of the Gospel. (I have seen some of your other beliefs, so I am not impressed)

It is hard for me not to take a sarcastic tone in light of the events that have transpired. The lies and manipulations, the hurtful words, the pettiness over things like our not acknowledging a postcard. It is all unbelievable at times. I read through my concerns, concerns that I still have today regarding your preaching and the leadership of University Christian Church. But I must wipe the dust off of my feet and move on. Hopefully to a better place, but that is in the hands of God.

The Pastor's Letter - Part 2

Part one was yesterday's post. My musings are bolded.

After carefully reading your entire paper, spending considerable time in prayer about it, and discussing my preaching with our Elders and other ministers, I feel comfortable standing behind my comments as I intended them and as the vast majority of listeners apparently heard them. (So does Joel Osteen) I appreciate the time and thought that went into the responses in your paper; however, I do not intend to give rebuttal to them because I do not believe it would be a helpful process. (Since when is considering another point of view healthy anyway. Now what was that comment that Elder T made at our meeting, that the minister had responded to every point in my letter? But I don't really think it was the truth they were after anyway. I think it was more about being right in and charge.) As 2 Timothy 2:14 says, "...Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins the hearers." (It is quarreling because I have a different opinion and I don't agree with you? What about classroom discussion? Are you saying I should be warned? Why have you only picked out half a verse here? Isn't the real meaning of this passage about Paul reminding Timothy to focus on the gospel, and not on trivial words? And that is the very reason we came to talk to you!)

Frustrating! I do see a real comparison here to Joel Osteen and other prosperity gospel preachers. The whole idea that they are above reproach, and if they are confronted they just gather around them the very people who give him his power to form a hedge of protection. What about always being ready to give an answer for the hope that you have? There are other Scriptures that come to mind, but you don't really want to hear them now, do you?

The Pastor's Letter - Part 1

Over a year ago, we had spoken to our pastor regarding some questions we had about some things he had said in some messages. We met face to face in his office. Although the meeting seemed to start off on a defensive note, by the end of the meeting we left feeling positive, with an assurance that he would prayerfully consider our concerns and we would meet again.

About a week or so later, we received a letter from the pastor. Here is the beginning, my comments are bolded...

Letterhead states:
University Christian Church
Where Christ is the Master and People Matter

Dear Don and Paula,

I had promised to get back with you after reading your comments and praying about your concerns, (Yes, you did. This was both our understanding as we left the meeting.) and I thought a letter might be simpler than trying to schedule another meeting (although I am not opposed to meeting again with you if you still want to do so after reading this). (Reading between the lines, I am sending a letter because I really don't want to give you an opportunity to talk with me. My hope is that after reading this, you will not return.)

Let me begin by thanking you for having the integrity and courage to share your concerns directly with me, rather than going to a third party. (because that would require much more damage control.) That is the Biblical approach, (So what part of the Biblical approach involves sending a letter instead of dealing with someone face-to-face?) but so often not what people choose to do. (Like your choices and the choices of the eldership, for example?) It was difficult and painful for me to hear and read your perception of my preaching, but it also challenged me to scrutinize myself even more than usual. Such an exercise can be quite healthy from time to time. (Personal scrutiny is your answer to this? "Let me see if I am okay, yup, I'm fine.")

There you have the first 2 paragraphs. There is more to come.

Calvin and Me - Part 6

Perseverence of the Saints

Some would say, once saved,  always saved. Again, the arguments here are interesting. Some would say that once you are saved, you cannot lose that salvation no matter what. Others would argue that if you fall away, you were never really saved in the first place.

The real question for me is, what constitutes salvation? I don't believe we obligate God to save us at any point. He surely sees through our efforts to get to heaven by merely seeking to sign a pledge card, say a prayer, or even being baptized. I believe that the Holy Spirit has to have his say in the matter. So, this is one that I have to defer to God. I believe that if irresistable grace is true, then this follows as well. But I am not going to put it to the test. How about you?

Calvin and Me - Part 5

Irresistible Grace

On the surface, the concept makes sense, if God wants you to love Him, you are going to do it. That does not mean that everyone would embrace the concept. Some would resent the idea that God does not give us a choice. But I don't think that is the real issue. It is not that we don't have a choice, it is that there really is no choice.

It's like choosing between having a thick, juicy steak or having a bowl of dry cereal. Now some might say, wait, I am a vegetarian so I would choose the cereal. Okay, it is not a perfect analogy, but I think it makes the point for most. If you choose the steak, it is because you feel compelled by the sheer difference of the matter. A steak or cereal, I go for the steak.

The Bible says that one day, every knee will bow before God. I assume that means every knee. Even those who denied or rejected Him in this life. Why? Because He is God. Take every beautiful and powerful thing on this earth, multiply it by millions, and you only have the fringe of God. We will bow because there is no other option.

So what if, while here on earth, God chooses to reveal Himself to some, not even fully. If God wants you, He will get you. How can his grace be anything but irresistible? You can consider it unfair if you like that He does not reveal Himself to all, but you are not God, you cannot fathom His ways, It's like when my children want something and I have to say no. They don't look at the big picture, they just see that I am being unfair and they don't like it. Forget the fact that I have a bit more knowledge or insight than a 10 year old. Forget the fact that I understand our budget needs. Jimmy has a new Play Station 3, and we don't. That's not fair!

If you take this idea of unfairness to its fullest lengths, life is unfair anyway. Does everyone have the same advantages? Does everyone get to hear the gospel? Do those who hear it all get to hear it in the same way? Where does one draw the line at fairness?

That is not a rhetorical question. If you can answer that in a way that makes everything fair for everyone, I would really like to hear it. Until then, I will trust that God is fair, whether I understand it or not.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Calvin and Me - Part 4

Limited Atonement

My understanding of limited atonement is that it means that the saving grace that comes from the cross was limited to those who God elected to be saved, that it was not an offer to all mankind. Armenians believe in unlimited atonement, that the offer of salvation is given to everyone, but only those who accept it will receive salvation. Either way, not everyone gets a free pass to heaven. (Sorry, Rob Bell)

What I take out of this is simply that both groups kinda agree but look at it from a different perspective.

I am not a militant Calvinist. I believe that God has predestined to save some Armenians, and will reveal the truth to them later.

But here is something for the militants of both camps to think about. I recently read a blog comment where the author said, "This is unacceptable to me for a whole bunch of reasons. (I can never believe that God creates hopeless people.)" The author was speaking about predestination. I can't say that I have the definitive answer to any question when it comes to God, but for me to say something that God might do is "unacceptable" seems rather dangerous. Especially from someone who stereotypically downs Calvinists. What is God does elect? Does He not have the right to make pottery that is for noble use and pottery that is disposable? Can't He use Tupperware and aluminum foil to store His leftovers? He is God, and what is man that He is mindful of him? Or what if in grace God's atonement is unlimited? Does that mean you would refuse a ride on the escalator to Heaven because someone got on who was not elected? I love theology and embrace certain beliefs, and that does affect who I am and how I respond to God and ultimately to others. But I must not let my theology become my God.

I don't think God bases salvation on our view of atonement.

Calvin and Me - Part 3

Total Depravity

After what I have seen personally, and read in the Bible, it would be hard to convince me otherwise. The Pharisees, even after seeing the miracles of Jesus, only wanted to squash His ministry and eventually kill Him when things progressed. Does anyone else find it ironic that they wanted to kill a man who could raise people from the dead? They wanted to kill a man who knew what they were thinking? Talk about blind, these men were it.

I also think about my experiences at my previous church, University Christian Church of Muncie, Indiana. These men defended their pastor and their own line of thought without ever even listening to, let alone considering anything else. They violated Scriptural procedure, but certainly had their justifications for doing so. Now who does that sound like?

I see it in my classroom. One minute a student genuine repents of their behavior, promising to make a complete and total turn, only to quickly find themselves back in the same or worse behaviors than before.

Total depravity: The belief that there is nothing good in us, nothing that would cause us to turn to God without His divine intervention. For more on the subject, click here.

Try as I might, I cannot do anything good without God's help. It's not that I can't do things that might be considered good. But even in these things, without a cleansing and a turning brought about by the Spirit, I still am only seeking to fulfill my own sinful desires. Just like the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal, who stays and is obedient, but only because he values his inheritance, and not his father. This is evidenced by the response said son has when he finds out about his father's response to his brother's return.

Why does this appeal to me? Because it makes God's acceptance of me the basis of my salvation, and not my acceptance of Him! That is the ultimate beauty! God loves me, and sent His Son for me! Rather than a blanket, "Anyone who follows this formula" it becomes a loving act of a gracious God. I wish I could explain it better, and I will deal with this topic again under the P of Tulip, Predesination. But for know, since I am dealing with the idea of total depravity, I will stop there.

I know that Calvinists are not the only ones to believe in this doctrine. I think that is great. But for me, it just fits in with the puzzle of God and His grace as an intrical piece of their theology. Knowing that I have nothing good in me humbles me. It makes me bow down and beat my breast, just like the tax-collector did while the Pharisee stood near-by extolling his virtues to God in his prayer. It reveals to me a wonderful aspect of God's grace that I need to always keep before me. If Paul is the worst of sinners, I need to see myself as the second worst.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Calvin and me - Part 2

So here I am at a spiritual crossroads. This is when for whatever reason (perhaps it was predestined) I picked up a couple of books by 2 authors who are Calvinists. But I did not know that at the time.

The first book was "Desiring God" by John Piper. I felt it a thick and difficult read at times, but I devoured it anyway. His premise of Christian Hedonism was intriguing, and on many levels made a lot of sense. Now it was me vesting my joy in the beauty of a wonderful, sovereign God, instead of God vesting his enjoyment in me. "God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in Him," as Piper puts it. Calvinism or not, this is holy and righteous stuff.

The second book was one by Jared C. Wilson, Your Jesus is too Safe." In light of my experiences and feelings, it was just the right title at the right time. More great stuff about how God is at the center and I am not. These Calvinist guys definitely have a way of speaking to my heart.

The God lowered the boom. I found out about a Calvinist preacher named Matt Chandler. I saw his witness in the midst of a devastating diagnosis that might cost him his life. I started listening to his preaching. It was more than just telling me what to do, every message seemed to have a theological base of God on high and me not. He painted his messages with strokes that even in the midst of hard teachings made God look beautiful. My heart was changing. I wanted to know more about this kind of God. What followed was books by Platt, Tchivijian, more Piper, Chan, and others. These men were showing me that it was not enough to get to heaven, but I needed to love and worship the God who was enthroned there. And He is lovable!

They also let me see that God loves me. But just because He loves me doesn't give me a blank check to do whatever I want. I need to love Him in return. Through these men, I have seen a God that before has been unknown to me. A God that has seen me through some incredible ordeals. A God who is molding me, perhaps for some things in this life, and definitely for some things in the next.

I haven't (yet) finished reading Calvin's Institutes. I have begun a book by Jonathon Edwards. And I don't agree with everything I have read. But I am in good company, because they don't all agree with one another either. Am I a Calvinist? Perhaps. There is much that I agree with, much that I find beautiful and that I find to agree with Scripture. Time will tell as I joyfully continue this path with a much more open mind than ever before.

Calvin and me - Part 1

First of all, in response to the question, "Am I a Calvinist?" the answer at this point is, "I am not sure." I really don't know all there is to know about Calvinism. (Does anyone?) For the longest time I thought Calvinism meant predestination, and that was about it. I had also heard of the TULIP acronym, but it seemed to go against some things I had preached and taught in our church, so I just dismissed the whole system. After all, if it is preached and taught in the church I attend, it must be right. Right?

I recall an instance several years ago now. I was teaching Sunday School. There was a man in the class who had been attending for a while, and he brought up something about Calvinism. Everyone looked at him like he had just started speaking another language. And to us, I guess he was. He proceeded to enlighten us with the TULIP definition. More blank stares.

Now I don't consider myself a slouch when it comes to the Bible. I attended seminary for 4 years. I was in the ministry. I have read more than a couple of Christian books. But then something started to happen inside of me. At first, it was just a feeling that something was wrong. It was as if I was seeing through clouded glasses. The Christianity that I had been embracing just didn't feel right anymore. Even before reading any new books, blogs, or listening to other preachers, I had come to see the version of Christianity that I was following was "me" oriented. It was all about my comfort and my security. It was almost as if God was my servant, granting me every wish I desired.

I had reached a turning point, but I did not know where to go to find answers. When I talked to people in the church, most now looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. Although, a few did smile when they said it.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pete and Repeat

I wish I could say that my experience with University Christian Church, as detailed in previous posts, was a unique one. But it is not. I am finding that it is more common than I could have thought. I have read numerous blog posts of people who have gone through similar experiences. My own previous experiences also hold some similarities.

It was somewhere around the time that I started blogging that God started putting some crazy thoughts in my head. The church I was attending was going through Eric Rees's book, S.H.A.P.E. I was studying it with our small group, and was finding some statements and thoughts that bothered me. It seemed that everything about God was really about me. One statement that has stuck with me is about how our strengths and abilities show God's glory. But what about our weaknesses and inabilities? Isn't the true glory of God found in how He fills what is lacking in me? He concluded with a challenge to take a 90 day test drive into service. If it works, keep going, if not, you have only lost 90 days. Is that the message of the cross, or is it a message designed to grow a church by catering to people's whims and fancy?

When I sought out some of the leaders of the church, responses were varied, but ultimately no one wanted to really discuss that matter. One of the ministers told me that "I don't have time to debate theology with you." Really? Have I mentioned that I was an elder at the church? Others in various capacities of leadership had mixed responses to the book, but since the 40 study was over, what did it matter now?

That was the beginning of a journey for me that has awakened a desire in me to know more of God. Not a desire to do more or be a better Christian. Those things may be good, but without a solid understanding of God and who He is and how I should relate to Him, I fear that those other things ultimately will not matter. Well, they will, just not in the way that some will expect them to. Read Matthew 7:21-23, I dare ya!

15 Reasons to Stay.

Found this here. I added a few comments in bold print, so those are not from the original author.

  1. I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)--as messy and as difficult as that may be. I think that many churches believe that they have to have a pristine appearance to attract clientele, or perhaps the "right" clientele. Anything that smacks of ugliness is often quickly and quietly discarded.
  2. I want to be the change in the world that I seek. And that means engaging the problems closest to me. Like in the next pew. Like in this pew. Like in my own seat.
  3. I believe that reconciling nations and people starts at home. If I can’t work toward reconciliation in my own church, there is no way I will be able to accomplish it on a broader level anywhere else. Amen!
  4. I’m not a militant separatist. I don’t believe that everybody has to think EXACTLY the way I do before I will worship with them. Even if they are more conservative than I am. Again, I see too many churches who have adopted a "cookie cutter" mentality. If someone holds to a different position, we dismiss them as hard-headed or not unified with the body. But I wonder sometimes, do my toes always agree with my fingers?
  5. I don’t expect the church to be anything other than it is—a group of difficult, broken people plodding their way to glory. The kingdom of God is coming; it isn’t here yet.
  6. I believe the church is bigger than political parties even if the people attending it don’t understand that. Even if the people who leave it don’t seem to understand that either.
  7. I believe Jesus can and wants to redeem Pharisees as much as publicans. You have to believe this, or you become one of the Pharisees!
  8. I believe by staying in the church I earn the right to speak about the problems I see. It’s the old adage that you can criticize your family but no one else can. By staying with “my family,” I can speak about our failures and the doubts I wrestle with. I think that is why churches seek to get rid of problem children quickly. Don't let the take root!
  9. I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.
  10. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been imprisoned and lost their lives for doing the very thing that I would be giving up. And they do it JOYFULLY. At one point, someone confronted me and asked about my happiness. I said that my happiness is not my concern, but my joy in the Lord certainly is. If my peace comes from having everything in place, it is a fragile peace indeed!
  11. I do not want to lose people I love and who love me and my family. And while there are times that conviction must trump relationships, these relationships act as a grid to help me determine whether my convictions are sufficient enough to risk losing these people from my life.
  12. I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness--things that if left to myself, I would conveniently ignore or rationalize. Hopefully, the church is up to the task!
  13. I am not an island. My choice to leave church affects everyone else in the congregation. Remove one part from the whole and it is no longer the same entity.
  14. I have children. And while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s dangerous to raise your children in a church that distorts the gospel, it’s equally as dangerous to raise them apart from church altogether. One way the gospel is expressed is in the loving covenant relationship that happens in the church – I want that to be part of the warp and weave of their experience. I want them to know that real commitment means taking the good with the bad. Amen!
  15. Jesus hasn’t left the church. No, of course, I don’t mean this in a sanctimonious way. (If I had, I would have put the word sanctimonious in asterisks.) I mean simply that after he threw out the money changers, Jesus continued to worship and sacrifice in the temple. His work is to purify and redeem, not to alienate or destroy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kicked to the Curb - Part 6


I was told that they had listened to me. Some meetings had taken place. I was told that they cared about me. I was told that my beliefs were a problem. Elder T: So we've listened., but until we agree to your viewpoint, we haven't listened." So I asked the question, one that would be easy to answer if they indeed had done all this listening to me, "Do you even know what my viewpoint is?" Their was a brief pause and then Elder T responded, "From what I understand is, you believe that we shouldn't be going out and working for God's kingdom." Those who know me, who have read my blog, who have listened would know that is absurd. It's called antinomianism, and I do not hold to that belief. But I did not want to cloud this issue, so I told him, "That's totally incorrect, and that is what I mean." I was then asked, What is my viewpoint? So I continued, "My viewpoint is that when we do things, when we work, it's not because we are told to work, it is because we have such a desire in our heart to honor and worship Christ and we see him as beautiful as he is, and that our work is a response to his grace and not his grace is a response to our work. And that is what I hear a lot of in that pulpit. (That his grace is a response to our work. Kind of a watered down Joel Osteen approach. Smile!)

I was asked by Elder G, "Do you think we believe in works-based salvation here?" I responded, "I don't think you think that, but yes, I do." Elder G, "How?" Response, "Because if you listen 90% of the sermons content, it is about what to do, and 10% or less is about why to do it, when it should be the other way around."

So, if I am wrong, I am wrong. More conversation ensued, but it mostly rehashed the same ideas. Eventually, the meeting ended with them asking me to let them know my decision within 2 weeks. We haven't been back since.

And we haven't gotten a postcard either. At least they got that right.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kicked to the Curb - Part 5

Elder T: "What we are seeing is every Sunday you have a problem or critique of the sermon, and that to me seems out of, way out.  ...You're a critiquer" (Critiquer, is that a word, or did he make that up?) "As I see it, you're not teachable." (If by teachable you mean blindly following whatever you want to lay out before me without questioning, then yes, I am unteachable. But as a teacher, I know that one of the important elements of a good teacher is the ability to respond to and answer the questions of my students. A teacher's goal is to guide students to the truth, now shove it down their throats.

Can you see Paul saying this to the Bereans. "Hey, you guys, stop critiquing my message and just agree, would ya? We gotta have some more unity here! You, the guy with the beige tunic, one more question like that and you are outta here! Now open your scrolls to..."

I turned the tables by saying that I could say the same of them. Elder G asked, "You don't think we're teachable? I asked, "Tell me how you have been teachable?" Elder T responded, "Well, we've been listening to Steve, his preaching. We listen to others who teach us in class." So, listening to one man preach, and his disciples teach in Sunday School makes you a broad-minded individual? Again, this borders on pure arrogance. It's like saying you know how to swim because you have been wadding in the kiddie pool, and the big pool is attached to it. I was asked why I said they were unteachable. I replied , "I am saying it because of the same reason you say it about me. You say I am unteachable because I don't listen to you. (And I don't. Not because I consider myslef unteachable, but because in all of our conversations, they have yet to teach or discuss anything. All they want to do is shut me up by crying "unity" and telling me to get in line. That is not teaching.) I read a lot of books, I read my Bible, I feel like I am very teachable. I feel like I have grown more in the last year and a half than I have ever grown in my life. And it's challenging and it is difficult to sit here in this position to say, you know what, maybe you guys are wrong." I was interrupted by Elder T at this point. He asked if I ever ask myself that question. I responded, "Absolutely, I ask myself that question every day, because I went through Bible college and I went to the Christian Church and have been in it for a long time, and for me to start questioning these things and to feel like maybe we are off by a little bit or maybe we're off by a lot. And really when I started to come to that conclusion and I wanted some answers, basically  I was told nobody wants to listen to you, nobody wants to hear it."

What I would like to add: And I want to thank-you. Because you did not respond, I went in search of answers on my own. I read my Bible, listened to the sermons of pastors that I respect, continued to read books that would stretch me. And it has been awesome. It is what has brought me to this point where I can look you in the eye and mot be ashamed of what I believe. It is what helps me to see through the veneer of Christianity that lays on you. It is what brings me to pray for you, that God might soften your hearts to hear and to listen. It is what has brought me to understand that the joy of knowing God is not dependant upon my circumstance or level of comfort. Thank-you so much. I thought for a long time that God would open your hearts, at least to a point that we could work together. But now I see that maybe God did this for my growth and perhaps as a means of holding you accountable someday. That is all in His court. I still pray that He will mold you to be more in His image, something I pray for myself and my family as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kicked to the Curb - Part 4

I was given 2 options.

1.  "Repent of this critical attitude that is leading to divisiveness, could lead to divisiveness, and come join with us, be supportive of the leadership and Steve, grow with us, and help us further God's kingdom"

2.  Or, we'd like you to go to another church, a place that you can worship and be happy.

And I was generously given 2 weeks to reply.

I questioned if they were asking or telling me to leave. I was given the following analogy:

Elder T: "You're a teacher, if you have a disruptive student in your class my hunch is that you tell this student, 'Here's the expectations for you to stay in this class. If you don't fill those expectations, I'm going to send you to the Principal's office"

I asked for the specific expectations, because I did not want to go to the Principal's office!

1.  Stop the critical attitude of Steve's preaching, to him and to other people. That you try to join us in fellowship, and that you be involved in the work of the kingdom here. That critical attitude could lead to division and that is the big concern.

I then asked, "So if I don't agree with something that has been said, then I don't have the right to talk about it, is that what you are saying? Because that is all that I have done. I found out that the problem was that I was talking to others in the congregation and not keeping it within Elder T., Elder G and the pastor. But they knew there were concerns and questions, and they never sat down to discuss them. They would say that we did, because we did meet, but every time it was a meeting to do damage control. So discussing theology is out-of-bounds, unless done in their presence and only their presence. They say that their desire is to protect the flock. But if that is true, then why did some of the elders compliment my teaching at the Journeymen meeting? Why, after all the discussions have they not come up to me and told me where my toughts are unbiblical? Why, at our breakfast meeting did Elder S state, "I can't argue with your thoughts, but this is not good for the church." Really? So now being a wolf is not a matter of false teaching, it is just a matter of any teaching that we don't want to listen to? I recall my mentioning the name of Francis Chan at one of the meetings with the pastor. His response was, "He's always capping on the church." So because Chan finds some inconsistencies in the church, we should discount what he says? And they look at me as arrogant, but they refuse to see anything they do as being able to be scrutinized.

As I continue to rehash this episode, it makes me sad. I feel that I need to express myself somewhere, and if others read it, so be it. I can back up what I say, they can't because much of it is made up. Where is the alleged response from the pastor to everyone of my questions and concerns? He said the pastor sent an e-mail to me and he received a copy. I would love to see it. But again, that goes to the whole idea that the brute squad did not confront me on Biblical terms, allowing me to talk to any who heard what I said, and not allowing me to invite others to the meeting who were there and could tell what they heard. But rules don't matter if they don't work in your favor. This is their idea of unity?

Kicked to the Curb - Part 3

The charge: Divisiveness.

Elder T: "First of all, when (Elder G) and (the pastor) and  I met with you, you said you had your concerns, and you were keeping those concerns between us."

That meeting took place in October, and now it is February. Has anyone bothered to talk to me since that meeting? As a matter of fact, when Elder S came to visit after we had indicated we probably should leave, he invited the pastor who said he did not want to come. Then, when we did meet again at the request of my wife, he was upset because we had not changed our position. I guess time does not heal everything. I guess as long as they can keep a lid on things, all is well. The lid is on gentlemen, God have mercy on you.

So, it is divisive to ask questions, it is divisive to talk about things that frustrate you in small group, it is okay to know there are concerns and never talk about them, it is okay to bully people into submission, and when they won't submit to kick them to the curb. All in the name of conformity unity. Is this real Christianity?

I guess that is one reason I love to listen to Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, Francis Chan, etc. They are not afraid of confrontation. They confront me everytime I listen to them. They are not worried about how the audience might take their message, they are more concerned about how does their message glorify God.

I guess if you go by their definition of being divisive, Jesus was divisive too. He confronted people. He let the rich young ruler walk away. He told Nicodemus that unless he was born of the water and the Spirit he would not see the kingdom of God. He pronounced woes upon the religious leaders. He angered them with his words. Or the Holy Spirit. He slayed Annanias and Sapphira. Dead. He put the fear of God into the people. Couldn't he have just told them to get along?

Is all that God demands of us is to attend church, get along at a superficial level, give some of our income, and smile while doing it? Oh, and invite people to come to church so they can do it too? What does the Scripture mean, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (Matt 23:15)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kicked to the Curb - Part 2

So they decided that they were right and I was wrong. Even though, they don't know my position, because they have never talked TO me, they have only talked AT me. There was never any discussion involving me. Just their own amongst themselves. Probably went something like this...

Elder T: So, what do you think of this whippersnapper, coming in and challenging the pastor's messages. This pastor has been here what, 7 or eight years now? Surely we couldn't be wrong that long.

Elder G: You know it. I don't care if I have talked to him and find some of his thoughts interesting. He actually has the audacity to disagree with the pastor!

Elder L: But perhaps, to be on the safe side, we should listen to one of the pastor's sermons with a more critical eye.

(After listening to a sermon)

Elder G: Well, that does it. He says the same wonderful things that he always says. What a spirit-inspired genius. I couldn't have said it better myself. Well, maybe just a little bit better, but I have more important work to do for God.

Elder T: Well said G. We didn't even have to open a Bible to agree with the pastor, it just made so much sense to me. And the pastor put all of those proof-texts in so I didnt have to anyway.

Elder G: Yes, just like he does when he answers questions in Bible studies. He can quote them almost as good as I can.

Elder T: So there we have it, we agree with ourselves, no need to discuss anything. And anyone who does not agree with us, well, they are just divisive. We have it nailed, no problems here. Well, except when someone disagrees with us. Then we have to shut them up to protect the poor little sheeps in our flock.

Elder L: That's sheep. The plural of sheep is sheep.

Elder G: Gentlemen, let's not disagree. Here, give me that dictionary. (Writes in an "s" after the entry for sheep.) See? We just all need to agree.

Elder L: My apologies. How could I have not seen that before?

Well, maybe that is not exactly how it happened, but I think it is close.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I just couldn't resist..

Story found here.

News flash: Atheist group uses unholy water to unbless a highway! Does anyone else find this ironic?

First, if they wanted to unbless it, does that not imply that it was previously blessed? So when the Christians sought to seek God's favor upon this stretch of highway, the atheists sought to undo what they do not believe in.

Seond, they claim to have unholy water. To have something be unholy, does that not imply that its opposite exists? And if something is holy, does that not imply the existence of God?

So, these people had nothing better to do than to go out on a day of the week, gather together, and do something about something that they really have no practical belief in.

Sounds like church to me.

Kicked to the curb - Part 1

I have been kicked to the curb. The elders of the church I previously attended have asked that I repent or stop attending. Repent of what, you ask? Good question.

At our meeting, everyone was friendly and introductions were offered, but not needed. After a quick prayer, they got down to business. I am a terrible person because I do not fully embrace the pastor's preaching. I have actually had the nerve to ask questions.

I was confronted with the evidence. Did I say evidence? I mean with the accusations. I was accused of sending several e-mails. When I asked if I could see them, none were produced. I did admit to handing the pastor a typed letter addressing some of my concerns. I was chastised because of the length of the letter, 6 pages. Perhaps I should have asked the page limit for such inquiries, but I don't think it was really the length that mattered. It was the fact that I did not embrace the pastor's messages.

I was also told that the elders listened to me, then went back to listen to the pastor's messages more critically, and they affirmed everything he said. Nice of them to do that, I suppose. No need to sit down with me and open a Bible. No need to present evidence of the accusations they were making. They could have just had the meeting without me, and e-mailed me the results, because you can't confront accusations that exaggerated and you can't question witnesses that are not allowed to attend the meeting. The inquisition gets to make the rules and don't go talking about Biblical discipline. They will decide when and how to apply the Bible.

There, now that we understand the rules, let's play.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Holy Justification, Batman!

I read this quote here, refering to divorce, but I want to take it in a little bit different direction.

I plead with you to reconsider this and to understand that when you give account before the Judgment Seat of Christ, these “counselors” you have around you will not be present, and their cowardly justifications for sin will ring quite hollow.

Wow! I had never looked at it that way before. When we stand before God, our pastor is not going to be standing there beside us, saying, "Well, he was just believing what I told him, I really gotta take the blame for this." And even if he were there, do you really think that God will let him take the blame? I really gotta go with a NO on that one.

There is only one who will be standing there besides God and us, and that is Jesus. And I sure don't want him quoting Matthew 7:21-23 when it is my turn. We need to be aware that when we listen to a preacher, that does not fulfill our responsibility to God for that week's reading of the word. No more than putting an offering in the plate relieves us of caring for those in need around us.

Just thought we should know.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hey buddy, got a light?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

This verse is important to me because it reminds me that Jesus will never fail. Even when it looks like others have won, and they may have overcome me in this world, but they have not overcome Jesus or Christ in me.
Sometimes I might get discouraged because things do not work out the way that I want, but I must remember that even though I might plan my steps, God orders them.

I read a piece yesterday while blog-surfing, and the author talked about being a light in post-Christian America. The thing about a light in a dark place is that it looks even brighter.

Darkness can never overcome light.  You don't walk into a lighted room, and ask someone to turn on the dark. Light always overcomes darkness. In a dark room, only a glimmer of light takes away the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, and his light will never be overcome.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mind Blowing

Found this little snipet here.

In the story that we Christians believe, God actually sends prophets to His people. Not to the unreligious, but to the religious people of the day. Our own story has a history of God calling us back to who we were meant to be. If you are a Christian, you believe that God critiques the very religion He started, sometimes in surprising ways and through surprising people.

I recommend reading the entire article if you have time. It seems that we do spend a lot of time speck hunting, when we should spend more time in log removal. Now, where did I put my chain saw?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leaving church

Video found here.

After my last experience, I am ready to leave the church, at least the one that I am attending. I listened to most of the sermon I missed this week. It is taken from Acts 5, the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Of course, he takes the easy road, the surface road, and makes it about me and my giving. He even brings in the concept of tithing. But don't worry, the elders have assured me that they believe in grace and not works. After listening, I find myself asking, "Is it no wonder that people are leaving the church left and right, when all we have to offer is a prescription for behavior? While money is involved in this story, I don't think this was included in the books of Acts to get us to fork over a few more bucks. I see more of a story about how God still wants to be taken seriously in all areas, and he doesn't want us coming to Him with a false sense of confidence in ourselves, thinking we can fool him or thinking that he owes us because of what we have done. Kind of a "works without faith" attitude. But if they preached that at University Christian Church of Muncie, Indiana, then they would have to take a closer look in the mirror. And I don't think that they are ready to do that.

This video talks about the dechurched and unchurched. He states how the unchurched are hostile to the church. Why shouldn't they be, when so many churches preach themselves and their glory rather than God's glory. He also talks about how this will probably turn into an indifference in the future. Isn't that what happens when one hears the same baloney over and over, we just reach a point where we want to turn and say, "Whatever!"

I appreciate the ministries of men like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller and others who are gospel centered preachers. I hope to find such a church someday. But like Bono, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It's getting hot in here!

Matthew 3:7-12

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but d he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and f fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Some thoughts:

  • Why did the Pharisees and Sadducee come to John?
  • I believe it is because they saw the people were going out to him, and they were curious and concerned. Curious about this new teaching, and concerned for their well-being. Perhaps, if this were something legitimate, they could latch on to it, cling to its coattails. If not, perhaps they could squash it, stop it from drawing people to it. Whatever their reasons, John saw through their appearance. So much so, that he calls them a "brood of vipers." Quite the insult for a Jew. If you recall, it was a snake that started this whole mess by tempting Eve in the garden. Was John saying that these religious leaders were as guilty as that snake? I think so. Look at all of the other admonitions toward them, such as blind guides, sheep without shepherds, etc. They came to protect themselves and "God's people." At least, they is what they thought.
  • What was John's message to them?
  • John told them that they must "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." He told them they must change. Listen to their talk, so full of pride and their position. So full of self and religion. But John tells them to repent, change. It is not about you, oh Pharisee and Sadducee. It is about God. You cannot stand proud in front of God, only humble. Stop depending our your position and lineage, and start depending on Him! No longer are we motivated by the guilt of disobedience, but are motivated by the joy of obedience!
  • Why cut down a growing tree?
  • Notice that when John says that the tree will be cut down, it is not because it has died, but rather because it is not producing good fruit! "But out church is growing!" But is it producing good fruit? Growth without fruit shows a lack of purpose, a lack of maturity. Growth alone does not equal goodness.
  • Why did John baptize?
  • For repentance, to bring about change. Not just in the lives of individual people, but for Israel. Their is this pattern, that people will draw close to God for a while, then fall away. Somehow, I think we have forgotten about this pattern. This message of repentance still rings true! Transformation! But not through external obedience, but internal devotion. Not by tithing or church attendance or correct doctrine alone, but by loving God for who He is, and not what He has given. The Pharisees took pride in their position and gifts, and rejected those who were "sinners." Jesus embraced the sinners and rejected the Pharisees, yet we continue to live in the pride of the Pharisees, scorning those who come to church and do not fall in line with us.
  • What is baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire?
  • The Holy Spirit is the comforter. Fire is a purifying agent. It is the perfect combination, trial and comfort! Except some of us will opt for external comforts, which will be consumed by the fire. Some will seek, as the Pharisees did, conformity over unity. Some will seek obedience over mercy. Some will take comfort in their own righteousness instead of relying on the righteousness that comes from God alone. Some will even deny the comforter His role and seek the comforts of the world. Could this be a form of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?
  • The gathering of the wheat.
  • Once the wheat is gathered, it will be put into the barn as good fruit. The chaff, which was once part of the wheat, has now been separated. It too is in a pile, but it is the useless part of the fruit, and will be burned up. Face judgement. Eternal destruction. Poof!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Go ahead, make my day.

I was asked last Sunday by our elders to "find another church" if I do not "repent" of my critical attitude and "join them in fellowship."

This is wrong on so many levels, it is almost commical, were it not so deadly serious.

THE 411

I was asked to meet with the elders of our church last Sunday to discuss the topic of "unity." At least they called it unity, I call it conformity. They are concerned that my questioning of the pastor's behavior and actions could be divisive. I agree! If people really knew what he was preaching and how he was behaving, they might want to do something about it!

My previous posts have detailed some of the issues I have had, so I will not go into specific details here. What I want to talk about here is the behavior of the elders, and how it mirrors that of the pastor. One of the things about unity is, it seeks the truth. Conformity, on the other hand believes that it already possesses the truth and everyone else should just fall in line with it. Bring on the brute squad!

This meeting was wrong on so many levels. First, it did not follow Biblical patterns of discipline. I was accused of saying criticizing things about the minister at our small group meeting. (Apparently I am not aware of the "no criticizing" clause in the New Testament.) I was not allowed to bring in witnesses who heard what was said, nor did they present witnesses to accuse me. No one spoke to me face to face (which would have been the first step according to Matthew 18.) They just spoke about what they had heard, and took it as gospel truth. (Yes, I see the irony of calling it "gospel truth.") The people I invited from the small group were not allowed to attend. Why weren't the accusers reprimanded for their inappropriate behavior? Why weren't they told to talk to me first, in accordance with Matthew 18? Maybe it is because unity follows the rules,conformity makes its own rules.

I was also accused of talking about the minister with another member of the congregation, which I admit I did. Two men, having dinner, discussing their faith and church. A private conversation that was not intended to go outside of that meeting. Should not people have friends with which they can discuss their victories and or frustrations? This person, however, chose to speak to the pastor about my concerns. My hope is that he did this out of love, and not out of any other desire. But the pastor apparently took this conversation to the elders, and they used this to say that I was stirring up dissention. Again, I invited the person I spoke to to attend the meeting, but the chairman of the elders said it was a closed meeting, and he was not allowed to attend. But they are in good company, Jesus was not allowed to face his accusers either.

I was told that I am a "critiquer." (I don't view that as a bad thing, although I know that they do.) I have criticisms of the pastor's sermons. I know that I have a different point of view than most others. My issue is that everytime I tried to discuss any concerns, these concerns were never addressed, I was only told things like, "stop being critical," "you are divisive," or "if you don't support the pastor's preaching, you should find another church." Yet when I ask them what about my perspective goes against the Bible, I don't get an answer. Is weighing what the pastor says wrong? Paul didn't seem to mind this, in fact, he commended the Berean Christians for studying the Scriptures to see if what he said was true. I guess if they had any problems, they just kept them to themselves. I made the mistake of actually trying to talk to the pastor about my concerns.

I was told at the meeting that the minister had addressed each of my concerns in an e-mail, and that this e-mail had been forwarded to each of the elders as well. I stated that I had not received such an e-mail, and asked if I could see a copy. They did not have one, and (of course) the minister was not at the meeting.The only thing I remembered getting was a letter saying that he would not address my concerns because he did not want to "quarrel about words," and that if we were not "confident of his preaching" we should find another place to worship. If Paul did not command such an attitude, how can they?

I suppose I could go on, and probably will at some later time to highlight some of the other frustrations I have felt during this meeting and episode of my life, believe me, there have been more. But I think for now, all I can say is, thanks for making my day. Our time at this church has been a difficult one. Although the pastor spoke of treating people with grace in the sermon that morning, I told the elders that we had experienced very little grace during our time there. Although we felt that God wanted us there for a season, there comes a time when you have to look at your options.

If the leaders are that regimented and blind toward what they are doing, if the pastor is that unconcerned and unwilling to listen, how could or would I anticipate that any persons in the congregation would understand or be drawn closer to Christ by continuing to attend there? I believe that I am right in my understandings, and have the Scriptures to back them up. But I also believe that to continue to confront at this point would be a losing proposition not only for me, but for the church. As Scripture says, the weeds will not be taken out until the harvest. To uproot them now would damage the crop. So I guess I just need to let the weeds grow. Right? Unless the Lord says otherwise, that is where I stand at this time.