17 December 2013

Why I Suddenly Dislike Promise Keepers

I received a letter the other day from Promise Keepers, an end-of-the-year-gift-appeal letter to be exact.  The envelope in which it came was a zoomed-in section of this photo, taken by a pastor with his iPad at the Cedar Falls PK conference this year (which I attended with several men from my church, and you can see me in the photo below).  The photo was intended to be just a photo of a bunch of guys worshiping Jesus together at this men's rally.  However, after taking a closer look, the photographer noticed that in the center of the stage there appeared to be an angel manifested, right there in the center of the worship band.  PK picked up the photo and has gone berserk with it, using it for all kinds of publicity purposes, including this year-end fundraising letter and the envelope in which it arrived.

Here is the photo (with a terrible Photoshop job done by me to show you where I am in relation to the "angel"):

 The caption to the photo is a quotation from Matthew 1:20 (it's actually a part of Matthew 1:20): ". . . and the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. . .").  It appears again at the top of the letterhead with faux handwriting font pointing to it saying, "This is not a doctored photo!"  The entire appeal letter is focused on this "appearance" of the angel at the Cedar Falls conference, including this section of text:
God uses angels as messengers to convey phenomenal news.  And when God visits, the people feel extremely blessed.  Promise Keepers was blessed to receive a very special message from an angel this year.  We've suspected that angels joined us in worship, but now we have the photo. . . . men worshipped loudly, forcefully, vigorously, and whole-heartedly!  That's when the angel appeared, during the praise and worship as men confessed at the altar.
Here's THE MESSAGE that we believe God was sending through that angel - He is pleased with our depth of spiritual pursuit.  He is pleased with our focus on the Word of God.  He is pleased with the impact of the ministry of Promise Keepers. (all spelling, punctuation, and emphasis original)

The letter is "signed" by PK President and CEO, Raleigh B. Washington, and by Chariman Emeritus/Founder Bill McCartney.  I would hope that, like Mark Driscoll, they themselves did not write this but have a team of marketing people to write it.  At least then they could claim ignorance.

Several things drive me nuts about all this.  (btw, this is serving as a place to organize my thoughts before I write PK a letter of complaint)  One is their taking Matt. 1:20 out of context completely and using it in conjunction with the "angel" photo for fundraising purposes.  That verse describes what happened to Joseph after he learned that Mary was pregnant before they had been together as husband and wife.  Joseph planned to divorce her quietly, but an angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him the truth and to tell him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife.  It was a one-time, unique appearance for a specific purpose, and it has nothing to do with what happened in CF.  Additionally, PK has never (to my knowledge) played it safe with this image with a statement such as, "while this is probably a well-timed capture of a lens flare + reflection of the stage light on the floor, if it is an angel, then . . . cool!"  From the moment this photo was made public, PK has loudly and carelessly flaunted it as proof of angels at PK conferences and has commented on their facebook page with numerous other Scriptures taken out of context because they have the word "angel" in them (such as Psalm 34:7: "The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.").  They have done nothing to prevent a hyperbolic, superstitious, blind acceptance of an obvious photographic light effect.  Talk about a confirmation bias!

 They have embarrassed themselves and Christians in general who also will fight tooth and nail for its "obvious" angelic reality.  Listen, people: I was there.  I had a great line of sight to the entire stage.  There was a moving spotlight behind the keyboardist (under the arrow) that was shining in the direction of the photographer.  You can see similar lights (an orange-ish and a pink-ish one as you move from right to left at that same height) on the stage, some of which are the same color as the "angel"!  (For example, look just above the guy in the orange shirt by the American flag) Why does that fact escape these people?  And why would an angel only appear in one man's camera, when there were undoubtedly hundreds of other photos taken about that same time but from different angles?  If there were an angel (one that, apparently, can only be seen by cameras), why aren't there more photos?

Here is a photo I took during the Lincoln Brewster concert (he used the existing lights and did not set up his own):


 To the right, you can see one of the swivel lights on top of a large box.  That is the light shining in the photog's eyes in the angel pic.  Yes, the lights can change color.  (You could almost argue that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove in this photo, right behind Lincoln Brewster at center stage!)

I suppose what irks me the most is the combination of the fact that the angel photo is easily explainable as a case of strong lights+perfect timing/angle, and the fact that PK is using this for pure propaganda, now including a shameless "you should give us money because, look, an ANGEL appeared (to one person's iPad) at one of our conferences (not any others), which clearly can mean only one thing: God endorses PK's mission."

Do I believe that PK is a good ministry to men?  Yes.  Do I believe that they should keep doing conferences?  Yes.  Their message is absolutely right: be the man God called you to be - love, cherish, serve your wife and family, be there for them, be sexually pure, be bold for Christ.  But do I believe they should advertise, promote, and fundraise with this photo?  Absolutely not.

It's desperate.

It's ignorant.

It's embarrassing.

It's manipulative.

PK, you can do so much better than that.  I'm really disappointed.

04 November 2013

Abortion and the argument of implantation

I've heard pro-abortionists argue that the embryo is not a person until it implants itself on uterus.  The argument generally goes like this: the process from conception to implantation on the wall of the uterus takes several days.  Beyond that, some 20-50% of embryos miscarry prior to implantation.  Once the embryo does implant, it sends out hormones to “signal” its attachment which also ceases the mother’s menstrual cycle.  Therefore, it is ridiculous to think that every embryo is a person.  Therefore, the embryo is not a person.

In response to this decisive moment being the moment when personhood is achieved, we can say a couple of things.  First, if it were universally agreed upon that personhood begins at implantation, then there would hardly be any abortions except for the spontaneous kind, which are also known as miscarriages.  However, personhood is not dependent on other people (in this case, the mother’s body) being aware of it by the hormone signal it produces.   Most people in the world are not aware that I exist; am I therefore not a person?

Second, the essence of the nature of the embryo is not dependent on how many of its kind survive.  Just because a large number of pre-implantation embryos do not survive does not change what it is in its essence.  Those that do miscarry die natural deaths are not being aborted in the same way as is what’s being debated in our country these days.  By the way, 100% of all people die.

Are you really saying that the potentially millions of frozen embryos are real people, just like you and me, with rights?  If so, why aren't you trying to save them?

Yes, I'm saying that.  It doesn't matter how incredulous you feel about the logic of it; what matters is whether the embryo is a person, and in every way that matters (i.e., the embryo is genetically distinct and alive) it is.  This is why I'm against embryonic stem cell research and am alarmed at the cavalier way fertilization treatments make dozens of embryos without ever intending to implant them all.  A pro-life couple can use IVF if they're willing to eventually implant all the embryos made for them (not necessarily all at once) and at least give them the same chance at development as a naturally-conceived embryo.

And in the way in which I'm capable, I am trying to save them by trying to change people's minds about what embryos are: very small, undeveloped human beings, but human beings nonetheless.

The argument of implantation fails to be valid because it defines one's essence by other people's awareness of its existence, and it arbitrarily assigns personhood to whether most of its kind survive.  

29 October 2013

Abortion and the Argument of Pain

So I preached a sermon about abortion last Sunday (which you can listen to here)It's far from perfect, and I feel I left out some important things (such as the effects of abortion on fathers), but the aim was not to attack women; rather, the aim was to attack the arguments used by pro-abortionists, which usually center around the woman and her rights.  Here, and in a few forthcoming entries, I want to state why I do not think any of the most common pro-abortion arguments are valid.  

Let's start with this one, one I recently saw in the comments section of a very edgy Matt Walsh blog article which goes roughly like this: I hear what you pro-lifers are saying, but before a certain point in its development, the fetus cannot even feel pain.  So abortion doesn't even hurt the so-called "baby."  This argument is ridiculous because, as ethicist Scott Rae points out, it confuses the experience of harm with the reality of harm.  If I were paralyzed from the waist down, and you cut off my legs, I would not feel pain, but could we say that there was therefore no harm done?  If I am anesthetized for surgery, and the doctor slips and pokes a hole in my heart, I didn't feel it - did he hurt me or not?  Harm is done when YOU hurt someone; it doesn't matter if they feel it or not.  Hurting someone does not depend on them feeling the pain of the harm done. 

This argument does not answer the question, "Is abortion wrong?"  It answers only the question, "How much pain will the baby feel when she is killed?"  

To which I ask, "Does it matter?"  We need to shift the focus of the discussion away from questions of convenience to questions of essence.  Convenience questions are questions such as is this child wanted?, is the woman/girl ready to be a mother?, will the fetus feel pain?, is the fetus viable?, etc.  Essence questions are is the embryo/fetus a human person or not?, what is the difference between a baby who has completely exited the birth canal and one that has only exited up to its head?, why is the killing of a healthy, 8-month-old fetus justified on the basis of concerns for the mother's health (which is defined arbitrarily by her physician)?

It's all about what the embryo/fetus is.  If it is not a person, then no justification for abortion is necessary.  If it is a person, then no justification is adequate.

30 September 2013

Porn: Marriage and Integrity Killer

Yesterday I preached a sermon about pornography and how Christians should stand against it.  In my research for this topic (which was all done under the watchful eye of a trusted accountability partner), I came across miserable stat after miserable stat that left me frustrated and angry.  There are many lies that people buy into about porn in order to justify their use of it, but no justification is sufficient to conclude that porn is harmless entertainment and doesn't hurt anybody.

Here are some stats I found (mostly from Covenant Eyes and several of their research projects): (Note: p = pornography; it was shorthand in my research notes)

-       -More than 1.6 billion searches for porn so far this year

-       -1 in 5 mobile searches are for p

-       -24% of smartphone users admit to having p on their handset (and of that group, 84% say their significant other didn't know about it)

-       -Political persuasion doesn't make any difference; all political groups use p at about the same rate

-      - There are nearly 2 million p sites

-       -In a 2008 online survey of over 560 college students, 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to p before 18.  Nearly 75% say their parents had never discussed Internet P with them.

o   In a 2009 survey of 29,000 college students, 51% of males and 32% of female students first viewed P before their teenage years.

-       -In a 2004 report from Message Labs, 70% of IP traffic occurs between 9-5, when most people are at work.

In the Church of Jesus Christ
-       "If you think you can't fall into sexual sin, then you're godlier than David, stronger than Samson, and wiser than Solomon."  - Bill Perkins

-      - Regular church attenders are 26% less likely to look at p than non-attenders, but those self-identified as "fundamentalists" are 91% MORE likely to look at p.

-     -  A 2006 survey reported that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women view p regularly.

Effects on marriage and family
-       -Prolonged exposure to P leads to:
o   An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society
o   Diminished trust between intimate couples
o   The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy
o   Belief that promiscuity is the natural state
o   Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy
o   Belief that marriage is sexually confining
o   Lack of attraction to family and to child-raising
-     -  In 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that
o   56% of divorces involved one party having "an obsessive interest in p websites."
o   33% involved excessive time spent speaking in chat rooms.
-       -"Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions." (US Dept. of Justice)
-      - in 2004, 70 million individuals visit p sites each week, 11 million of them are younger than 18.
-       -Nearly 2/3 of parents do not use online parental controls or filtering software.


03 September 2013

Amusement and the god of entertainment

Sometimes I feel like I could preach for an hour on a particular topic.  I'm pretty sure I'm the only one at church who feels that way, but some topics can easily be soapboxes for me.  This past Sunday, I preached on the god of entertainment (we are in a series on false gods).*  In doing an early Sunday morning run through of the sermon, it quickly became apparent that this sermon was way too long for me, coming in at nearly 40 minutes (I try not to preach more than 30, with rare exceptions).  So the difficult question surfaced: what do I have to cut to get this down to 25 minutes?  This is probably a good situation in which to find yourself; it's better than having to face the question, "What can I add to get this up to the right length?"  If you find yourself with a 10-minute sermon and you can't think of anything else to add, it's going to be a tough time for you sermonically.

So the gist of the sermon was this: entertainment is a gift from God, but it becomes an idol when it diverts and distracts us to the point that our most important relationships suffer.  The main part that was cut was a section on the concept of "amusement."  Here it is:

     Many forms of entertainment we seek because we want to be amused.  I never realized what the word "amusement" meant.  The Muses, according to Greek mythology, are the personification of knowledge and the arts: literature, dance, music, science, geography, math, philosophy, drama, and inspiration.  Music is an art of the Muses, and a museum used to be where you'd go to worship the Muses.  They were all about thoughtfulness, reflection, and creativity. 
     Now when you take a Greek word and put an "a" on the front of it, it negates the word.  It makes the difference between "theist" (someone who believes God exists) and "atheist" (someone who believes God does not exist).  Therefore, the word amusement basically means the lack of thoughtfulness, reflection, and creativity. 
     There's nothing wrong with a good laugh; it can help us cope with things that would otherwise drive us crazy.  But I have to wonder, does the god of entertainment really want to help us or hurt us?  Are we, as Neil Postman so aptly titles his book, amusing ourselves to death?  TV, movies, games, social media all promise to add value to your life - but they take it from you, one hour, one game, one newsfeed at a time.  We sit in front of the TV and say, "there's nothing on!"  maybe what we mean is "meaningless!  Meaningless!  It's all meaningless!"  As Kyle Idleman writes, "never in the history of humanity has there been so much entertainment and so little satisfaction."

* - shout out to Kyle Idleman for his excellent book Gods At War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

29 August 2013

"Into this world"

I have an honest question for those who assert that abortion should be allowed at any time before birth (although this question also applies to those who only support abortion up to a certain point) because, if a person doesn't want to, they shouldn't have to "bring a child into this world."  My question is this: isn't the baby already in the world?  Just because you can't see an unborn baby (with the naked eye; you CAN see her with ultrasounds) doesn't mean that she isn't "in the world" already.  They are behind some layers of skin and muscle, not in another dimension.

31 July 2013

Some Random Thoughts as I Sermonize

I'm writing a sermon on Revelation 3:16 (where Jesus says to the church of Laodicea, "So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth.").  This is a challenging verse for many reasons, and I want to list out some random thoughts about it, why it's challenging, and some implications for us today.
  • Why is it better to be cold than lukewarm? (see verse 15, where Jesus wishes they were either hot or cold, but not lukewarm).
  • Their lukewarm status derived in part from their sense of self-sufficiency; "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" (v. 17).
  • It is apparent that the city's water supply itself was neither hot nor cold.  Nearby Hierabpolis was known for their hot springs, and Colossae for their cold water, each of which serves a purpose (hot for washing and healing/bathing, cold for drinking and gardening).  Laodicea brought their water in through aqueducts from several miles away, and the water lost much of its heat in the process.  And it is possible that the mineral content of the city's water made it barely drinkable.
  • Laodiceans were wealthy, which is attested through several facts: the city was famous for producing black wool; in AD 60 there was an earthquake which leveled the city.  Rather than accept imperial aid for rebuilding, the citizens rebuilt out of their own means; the city minted its own coins, the wealthy erected statues all over the city, and Laodicea was home to a well-known medical school.
  • What was the church there doing before it went lukewarm?  What does a "hot" church look like?  (Please read that question in the right context!)
  • Some great thoughts by Spurgeon on this text:
    • "[God] judges a church not merely by her external activities, but by her internal pieties; he searches the heart, and tries the reins of the children of men.  He is not deceived by glitter; he tests all things, and values only that gold which will endure the fire."
    • "To be slandered is a dire affliction, but it is, upon the whole, a less evil than to be thought better than we are; in the one case we have a promise to comfort us, in the second we are in danger of self-conceit."
    • On what the lukewarm Christian says: "We are not to be so greedy as to be called miserly, but we will give as little as we can to the cause.  We will not be altogether absent from the house of God, but we will go as seldom as we can.  We will not altogether forsake the poor people to whom we belong, but we will also go to the world's church, so as to get admission into better society, and find fashionable friends for our children!"

25 June 2013

Christians and Drinking Alcohol

"Can Christians drink?" isn't really the most important question in the wider discussion on "gray areas" of the faith.  "Should Christians drink?" is a better question, because it avoids the unnecessary question of permission (yes, Christians can drink - a little, in moderation, without getting drunk, when it poses no stumbling block for a weaker brother) and moves to the question of benefit: Does social drinking help Christians make friends with/evangelize/become all things to non-Christians?  Does it help, or hinder, our witness for Jesus?

I am of the opinion that it probably doesn't help in most circumstances, and that most people will understand if you politely and non-judgmentally decline to drink (there are a hundred ways to do that without being offensive or snobbish).  Sometimes, though, I do think that it might hinder your witness not to drink.  Case in point: in Albania, where I have been on mission trips three times and have stayed with local families every time, there is a traditional drink of hospitality in the villages called raki.  Raki is basically moonshine, and although I'm not sure what proof it is, it's probably triple digits.  It's disgusting, potent, and a gesture of hospitality and good health to guests.  So if you refuse it, it's insulting to your guest and will hinder their receptivity to anything else you'd say, no matter how loving.  So I drank it, at least a little bit, even in the morning when it was served with my breakfast and Turkish coffee!  When the host would go to another room, I'd pout it out a window or something, but I always tried it.  But does this happen in the same way among Americans?  Probably not: people understand when you say, "No, thank you, I don't drink."

The argument from those who insist on their right to drink is that it breaks down social barriers with friends and acquaintances with whom you are developing a friendship, and it leads to a shared experience in which more openness and honesty is likely.  The argument from those who insist on not drinking is that drinking, even lightly, harms the consciences of those for whom drinking is unconscionable, i.e., it causes them to stumble in their faith.  Further, they argue that drinking blurs the line between being in the world but not of the world.

Jesus, as he often does, blurs modern distinctions.  He turned water into wine for a friend's wedding feast.  He was accused of being a drunkard (probably an accusation you can't earn without ever taking a drink), and he hung out with drunkards and other "sinners."  Most Christians know that what the New Testament condemns is drunkenness, not drinking.  In fact, in one place, the apostle Paul urges his disciple Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach (1 Tim. 5:23).  I believe the best place for us to turn is Romans 14 and 1 Cor.8.  Interestingly, the discussion at the time wasn't alcohol, but meat sacrificed to idols.

Romans 14:1-3, 15-23  Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. . . .  15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.  16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.  17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,  18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.  19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.  22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.  

1 Corinthians 8:8-13  8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.  9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?  11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
But there's also 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: 
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.  22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
An important question to ask about 1 Cor. 9:19-23 is in what way did Paul become like the ______?  In their drinking?  The text does not specify.  I don't think we can confidently stand on this passage to justify social drinking for the sake of evangelism.

Do I think it's wrong for a Christian to socially (and very moderately) drink?  No.  Do I drink?  Almost never.  If some friends invited me to go to the bar with them, and there was no schedule/family time conflict preventing me, I'd probably go and drink Dr. Pepper and enjoy the company of my friends.

But however you feel on this issue, we shouldn't only share the gospel with people when they are comfortable, on their turf, and loosened up by a couple of drinks.  Let's share Christ at work, at the gym, with the daycare staff, with the server at the restaurant (extreme politeness and big tips), with the customer service agent, etc.  And if you do drink with your non-Christian friends, don't forget to tell them about Jesus.

31 May 2013

Striking a Nerve (aka, Kids in Church)

So several friends of mine shared this blog post on Facebook.  If you'd rather not navigate away to read the article, called "Dear Parents With Young Children in Church," here it is:
You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant carseat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper.  I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.
When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together.When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in ten years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echos of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know, it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people… and even on those weeks when you can’t see the little moments, it matters to your children.

It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it’s hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family - with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy – are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.
So if I can summarize the arguments on this side of the discussion (not just from this article), then it would be this: children of all ages should worship (by that I mean sit in the entire church service) because...
  • it encourages families to worship together
  • it communicates to children that they are part of the community
  • it communicates that children are welcome as fellow worshipers, even if they worship a little differently than grownups.
  • it illustrates the diversity of the body of Christ
  • to send children somewhere else during the worship service communicates that they aren't ready for church, that church is only for grownups, and it doesn't prepare them to enter church later.
  • to send them somewhere else caters only to the grumpy old-fashioned people who can't "worship" without silence and no interruptions.
There may be more reasons, but I think this fairly well represents many of the main ideas I've come across.  But there is another side to the issue, and I think those arguments are the following: little children (under 8-10 years old) should not be in the worship service OR should not be with the grownups during the sermon because...
  • parents are not able to focus on the singing and/or sermon if they are constantly having to entertain/distract/chastise their children.
  • the sermon is not an age-appropriate teaching tool for today's children.  Sitting still and paying attention to a 25 minute sermon is hard enough for adults; kids just aren't wired for that.
  • making little children sit still and be quiet and not have fun in church sends a negative message to the kids, roughly that "church is where you have to do things you dislike because Mom and Dad say so," and "church is not a fun place."  This is related to the age-appropriateness argument.
  • (for those who desire it) a short break from the kids can help parents relax, pay attention to the service, and gear up for the kids again.  30 minutes away from Mommy and Daddy won't tear the family apart (and might actually be good for them!).
Again, there are more reasons on this side as well.  But to me it looks like a case of people wanting different things for different reasons.  Those who want kids in the entire service do so out of a philosophical foundation, and those who don't want kids in the entire service do so mainly out of pragmatic/logistical reasons.  Will the two sides ever agree?

Even if they don't, let's all agree not to demonize the people whose convictions on this subject differ from ours.     That said, what do you think?  Should all ages worship (not just singing, but offering, communion, sermon, and prayer time) together every Sunday?  Why or why not?

22 May 2013

On Homosexuality and Cherry Picking the Bible

I want to pass along a helpful article by Tim Keller, a pastor and writer I'm appreciating more and more.  He is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (which is not exactly the easiest place to be a conservative evangelical!).  In the article he takes on a common accusation leveled against Christians who say homosexuality is a sin: because you say you believe the Bible, and because the Old Testament says to execute those who engage in homosexual sex, then why don't you still obey those laws?  Why pick and choose which parts of the Bible you will obey and which you will not?

His treatment is good because he understands the concept that while we do believe the Bible is true, some truths (read: commands) have an expiration date because the kind of relationship God has with the church is very different from the kind of relationship God had with Israel.  The nature of God's relationship with "his people" is fundamentally different after Jesus.  We call this the "new covenant" (which, by the way, is what "New Testament" means).

01 May 2013

I'm Confused

On an ESPN show, Outside the Lines, Chris Broussard said some strong things in the midst of the recent coming out of NBA player Jason Collins.  He says a lot of other things which are quite neutral, especially when you find out where he's coming from as a Christian.  Here are his "controversial" remarks:

 What I'm confused about is this: why is it that when a gay person stands up for their beliefs and lifestyle, it is courageous, but when anyone who disagrees (regardless of religion, but it seems to be evangelical Christians who get the most heat for it) stands up for their beliefs and lifestyle, they are hateful bigots?  Some tolerance you got there!  Just because LBGTs say the Bible

There is a lot more to this interview than this snippet allows.  I encourage you to watch the whole exchange (which is 13 minutes long and also features openly gay reporter LZ Granderson), which you can find here.  Granderson believes he is a Christian, though his primary argument is political, not theological: you [Christians] say we are sinners because we have sex outside of marriage, yet you don't want us to get married, so "a brother's gotta do what a brother's gotta do" (his words).

No, a person (gay or straight) doesn't "gotta do what a [person's] gotta do."  There is no absolute NEED to have sex; it is a desire, not a need.  Your survival as an individual does not depend on having sex.  Many people live celibate and happy lives.  God's will is for sex to be in the context of marriage alone, and in heterosexual marriage specifically.  If you are gay and a Christian, then that means you willingly become celibate because loving and obeying Jesus ought to be more important than your lust.  There are a lot worse things that can happen to a person than celibacy.

Interestingly, Jason Collins was phoned by President Obama, tweeted by Michelle Obama, and is being hailed all over the country as a hero.  Because he's gay.  And a pro athlete.  Meanwhile, hundreds of soldiers have died for this country under Obama's watch, and how many surviving families get a phone call?  How many slain law enforcement officers' families get a phone call?  I thought LBGTs wanted to be treated like everyone else.  If that's so, then announcing your sexual orientation ought to receive as much fanfare as a straight NBA player announcing his sexual orientation.

I understand that culturally we have come/drifted a long way, and that this is becoming more common (I didn't say "normal.").  Frankly, I don't really care if someone's sexual temptation comes from the opposite gender or the same; what matters is holiness and obedience to the gospel of Christ, part of which is reserving sexual activity for marriage as defined by the Bible.  Is this hate speech, or understanding what the Bible says?  Why is it "intolerant" and "hateful" for Christians to affirm what the Bible says and not blindly accept all statements as harmless truth, yet to spew oceans of vile venom about how hateful Christians are is okay, even celebrated?  "Way to go, you tell those hateful SOBs how much they deserve to die a painful death and rot in a shameful afterlife!  They are so bigoted and backward because they don't agree with us!  We are so progressive, fashionable, and enlightened because we don't agree with them!"

Since when did "The Bible does not teach ______" become hate-filled bigotry, while laughingly belittling and bullying Christians (who do not believe that homosexuality is a mortal sin) is championing civil rights?  We Christians hear this a lot (though not this clearly): "you need to learn tolerance, you backwards, superstitious, hateful, archaic, irrelevant imbeciles!"  Maybe if we had a good example of tolerance...

And when the LBGT-friendly community actually does try to speak with Christians about this issue in an irenic way, it still reeks of a superiority complex:

LBGTFriendly: we need to have this conversation, we need to come together and talk about this in a peaceful way.

Christian: I agree.

LBGTF: I'm a Christian, too, and I believe God is love.

Christian: OK, but he's not love alone.  He is also holy and righteous and wrathful...

LBGTF: That's your interpretation, and what we need is a tolerant, peaceful discussion.

Christian: I'm trying to do that, but your interpretation of the nature of God is flawed and limited.

L: It's this kind of narrow-mindedness that is stalling this conversation from moving forward.

C: You mean, like, trying to figure out what the Bible actually says?

L: Look, I know I'm a Christian.  Jesus tells me so.

C: Where does Jesus tell you it's okay to be sexually active outside of marriage?

L: I don't appreciate your tone.  I'm trying to have an intelligent conversation with you and you keep offending me with your narrow interpretation and insensitivity.

C: Look, the Bible clearly calls homosexual sex sin.

L: I don't appreciate being judged.  God is my judge, not you.

C: Judging and telling the truth are two different things.  Judging means you are pronouncing a person's eternal destiny and standing before God.  Calling something you do a sin doesn't necessarily mean you're going to hell for it.

L: I'm disappointed by your words - they are hurtful and sound judgmental.  What's lacking here is respect and tolerance for different viewpoints.

C: No, I'm tolerating you just fine.  Tolerating someone does not mean accepting everything they say as true; that wouldn't be tolerance anymore. 

L: I'm sad that you aren't on the right side of history.  I feel sorry for you.

C: There's no way to win here, is there?

L: No.

One of these two is a hero for standing up for what he believes in (even though he claims to accept everyone's beliefs . . . except those that oppose his), and one is ignorant and prejudiced.

I'm confused.