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Cancer, F-bombs, and God’s Glory

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It all started with a thoughtful gift.  It expressed how we’d all felt over the last few weeks. Keith put it on and put his arm around his sister and we caught the moment on one of our phone cameras.  We certainly never intended for it to go public.  Maybe a little background will help.

Within the last few weeks we’d seen our precious daughter Leslye diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Within three weeks our son Keith was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Both of them with large masses in their chests. We have no family history of cancer.  This must be a bad dream, a mix up,  these two had run a marathon together a couple of months earlier.  To follow their stories, you can visit their caringbridge sites (Leslye and Keith).

I've blurred the offense part.

I’ve blurred the offensive part–the guy was smiling.  I can assure you we are never smiling when that thought crosses our minds.

The local newspaper heard about the two siblings diagnosed with cancer so close together in time and asked for a story.  They interviewed Leslye and Keith and asked if we had any photos they might use.  Among those we gave them is the now [in]famous photo.  It is a great photo of them after shaving their heads (it was falling out and needed to go).  It was a nice story.  I confess that I  cringed when I first saw the photo on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal and I was a little disappointed they didn’t include more in the story about their faith in God’s goodness and provision.

F-Bombs Everywhere I Looked

We are a Christian family and do not use that kind of language, nor do we appreciate it–usually.  More precisely and honestly, we try not to use that language–we’re sinners saved by grace and that kind of vile still slips out sometimes.  Now our two Christ proclaiming and God-trusting cancer battlers are on the front page of the newspaper with … the shirt!  Gasp!   The Albuquerque Journal received some grief over the photo and responded to it–yet again on the front page!  I thought the author did a good job responding to her critics.  Check it out and don’t miss the comments section.

In a matter of days we had a TV story (with the shirt of course!) and friends using the term on social media–more and more it appeared our family was quickly becoming the “f*** cancer” family.  I took a few measures to curtail it–asked a few to remove posts, especially ones that looked like they could go viral (like an attractive advertisement of a f* cancer product to benefit us…) and everyone was very gracious in removing them.  I believed that somewhere in the process we’d crossed the line from occasional appropriate and impactful use to the point of being defined by it.

God’s Glory and the F Bomb

As a family we want to glorify God in our suffering.  We know that the cosmos do not revolve around us, but they do exist for the pleasure and glory of its Creator.  No matter how this turns out, we pray that we may be remembered as a family that trusted God and gave Him glory.  If this confuses you don’t worry, it’s pretty other-worldly stuff.  Many men and women have walked this or similar roads before us and have suffered to God’s glory.  Some examples that come to mind are John Piper and Matt Chandler and their cancers or Joni Eareckson Tada and her quadriplegia.  My primary concern for the f-word frenzy is that it could obscure what needs to be our primary aim–God’s glory.

Like I said, I cringed when I saw it on the front page, but let me say for the record this sentiment crosses my mind often.  That goes for all of us.  We don’t apologize for our feelings.   On a gut feeling level, the most offensive thing on the t-shirt was the guy’s smile as he flipped cancer the bird.  You see, none of us touched by cancer are smiling when this thought rages through our minds.  I blurred the most offensive part (to us who are battling cancer) of the photo.

Of course as Christians we don’t live and move on “the gut level” only.  We serve a holy God.  We believe in the sacred texts of the Bible that include such commands as:

ESV Ephesians 5:4  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

ESV Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

It’s a bit presumptuous for us to blow these off when we’re really emotional with a self-justifying or sin-minimizing “Jesus will understand.”   Instead, let’s take a closer look.  It is clear that obscene and filthy talk is out of bounds for the Christian.  Is the f-word always obscene/filthy?  To those who knee-jerk “yes” to that question: is this a biblical standard or a reflection of your 20th-21st century Western cultural norms?  The f-word is certainly used in filthy contexts, but sometimes it is a word used to demonstrate utter contempt, searing hatred, … you get the picture.  When directed at a person we find ourselves right back at odds with God’s commands (we’re to love everyone from our closest family to our enemies… pretty inclusive!), but what about hating/showing contempt for thorns, cockroaches, viruses, cancer, death, and sin (particularly our own)?

To those of you offended by the t-shirt or appalled that any Christian would ever use the f-word–please grow upIf it helps, I’m preaching to myself here too.  There is a generation behind us that is sick to death of the shallow happy face Christianity many of us have been serving up.  They see authenticity as the ultimate virtue and the “don’t smoke, drink, cuss, or chew, or go with girls who do” moralisms of our pop-church culture as sickening.  With a little (or a lot of) humility we may just learn something from these brash younger people.  You may even, like me, come to appreciate something like my friend Levi’s poetry… this one titled … wait for it … F*ck Death.

To my “millennial” brothers and sisters who are frustrated your prudish parents in the faith–please be careful.  Don’t confuse the quest for authenticity with license for filthy talk or truly immoral behavior.  Authenticity is not the ultimate virtue and hypocrisy is not the only sin.  The generation ahead of you, those of us who brought you shallow, sappy, moralistic easy-believism/pop-evangelicalism, really aren’t complete idiots.  You’ve recognized a glaring hole in our faith and practice, but many in your generation have over-reacted and gone off on their own tangents (Emerging/Emergent Church, The Irresistible Revolution …).  Remember the goal is faithful God-glorifying Christianity!

 

 

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Christians & Alcohol–A Romans 14:16 Appeal

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Introduction

Wine picture

It seems like we always want to approach the topic of Christians and alcohol with a specific question in mind: “Is it permissible for Christians to drink alcohol?” It’s a legitimate question, but also a revealing one. It can be driven by a number of sinful motivations. If I’m convinced that the Bible says no, then am I looking for a loophole for myself? Or am I looking for grounds upon which to judge my brother who is convinced otherwise?   Rather than asking if it is permissible, I believe Christians should be asking “Is drinking alcohol something that can/should be done to the glory of God?”   And my greatest exhortation in this is that people not live as hypocrites. If you believe that the Bible says it is sinful, you have no business doing it. At the risk of over simplification, the two steps we need to follow to be faithful Christians is: 1) discern God’s view of alcohol from Scripture rather than tradition; and 2) live your life and make judgements accordingly. By “judgements” here I refer not to judging individuals, but to judging behaviors in ourselves and others a.k.a. “fruit inspection.”

Another Look at Romans 14–and a Key Verse that Seems to be Overlooked

In the debate over Christian alcohol use over the years, both sides have appealed to various sections of Romans 14:13 – 15:2. It’s wrong because “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother… it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.” It’s OK because ” nothing is unclean in itself … Everything is indeed clean ,” etc.   What’s needed is an approach to the text as a whole. Let’s see what God is telling us through His servant Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Though this text is more directly addressed to eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul clearly lumped the drinking of wine into the text in verse 21.

ESV Romans 14:13-23 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

ESV Romans 15:1-2 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

What is the primary concern here, what I eat and drink or how it affects my brother?

This one looks pretty easy to answer. Paul calls the meat (and the wine by extension–v. 21) “clean” and the emphasis seems to be squarely on how it impacts our brothers and sisters. That impact is not to be taken lightly.

What does it mean to grieve/destroy/cause to stumble?

This is another important question where we may just be assuming we know the answer. Does this include simply partaking/participating in something another person may disagree with? Or is it to do something that leads others into sin or heresy?   Making people stumble by what we do is a real problem or we wouldn’t need to be warned about it, but let’s scope the problem. Who is it that is vulnerable to stumbling here? Is it the person who witnesses it or hears about it and is offended because he disagrees? Or is it the person who might be influenced to act against conscience and participate in something he or she believes to be sinful?   Is the guy who strongly believes that Christians drinking alcohol is wrong in any danger of stumbling? Again we can’t shy away from a real danger, but we need to understand who is in need of protection by the “law of love” as we call it.

Paul Spells Out Two Options

When we face a real case of “would cause to stumble” Paul describes two options. To just “do it anyway” without regard for your brother is sinful and not one of the options.

Option 1. Don’t do it. If it is a biblically sinful behavior a Christian has no business doing it anyway. We’ll address that later. Even if it is permissible, we should never do it again if there is any way it could possibly get back to anyone who might be caused to stumble. This is a legitimate option and one that is faithful and loving. We’ll address the pros and cons of this option below.

Option 2. Obey verse 16. We’ve finally reached the “key verse” that is so often and easily overlooked. I confess–I somehow missed this verse for years… skimming over it, probably because my tradition demanded I do so. Let’s go back and read verse 16 carefully.

So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.”

(more…)

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A Pharisee Attempts to Discern Driscoll

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Mark Driscoll Preaching

What a strange title for a blog post. If you have “why” questions, keep reading here, but if you just want the meat of the post, skim down through the “Discerning …” headings. May I ask a small favor? If you are already angry and are ready to flame me, please at least read the post first. You might be surprised.

I’ve been called a Pharisee enough times to take it to heart. On one hand, if you are someone who’s willing to take a stand on sound doctrine, there will always be people willing to call you a Pharisee, but on the other hand if you’ve been called one by people you respect, then you need to take it to heart. I’ve posted a multi-part series on this invisi-blog that tells the story of my continuing fight with Pharisee-ism and its underlying pride. I bring it up here for a couple of reasons. Mostly because I see myself in a lot of Mark Driscoll’s troubles of late. If I were more charismatic of a teacher, a more dynamic leader, and more entrepreneurial…, if I’d experienced the amazing growth his churches, networks, conferences, etc. have seen, I could easily see myself blowing it. A foolish comment here, an exaggeration there, a short cut or two, and before you know it, I could have been in similar hot water. Another reason I bring up my battle with sinful pride is to keep me grounded as a take on a difficult task–Discerning Driscoll.

Why Me?–I have family and dear friends that are members of Mars Hill Church (MHC) and I am watching them struggle with how to process all that is going on. I am a local pastor (lay elder) with people in our congregation who also have friends and family in MHC. While there has been plenty written about Mark and MHC lately, I haven’t seen anything like what I’m attempting to write here–a discernment aid. While I desire to write something helpful for the Body of Christ that people on both sides can agree with, I have no such expectations. For what it’s worth, I take no pleasure in Mark’s or Mars Hill’s troubles and I certainly don’t enjoy the risks involved in writing this.

Why Now?–I needed to stop being a coward. I’ve had a draft of much of this post written for months and haven’t posted it. My excuse was that it was too badly written. It was, but that’s hardly an excuse to not put in the work and fix it. The truth is, that I was worried whom I might offend while I allowed others who might benefit from some do without. Now that the bombshells have stopped dropping and the feeding frenzy has died down, it is time for some sober reflection. A quick note to any haters looking for more dirt–there is nothing new here, you might have better success on my confessions posts.

Discerning His Accusers

A wise friend wrote to me that it is hard to discern the “good guys” in all of this. It’s so true. At one end of the spectrum we have many folks who appear to relish every little bit of bad news, every speck of dirt that is revealed, and cannot wait to share it. I don’t understand the pleasure that we can sometimes get when someone else suffers. But–we have to be careful when we start to judge people’s intentions. Some are no doubt driven by their own pride and hatred, some have been genuinely hurt but are sinfully seeking revenge, some are hurt and just trying to expose what they believe to be a sinful and corrupt man/organization but are doing so in unhelpful/ungodly ways. Also there are some who are trying to be faithful to the responsibilities that come with their God-given offices. Even these may only be receiving one side of the story. Some people with inside information, who never intended their words for a broader audience, have remained silent for their own reasons and have only recently chosen to speak up or they have been quoted by others.

We have accusers who are offended by his in-your -face style or crass language, and for that alone are on the attack and enjoying his troubles. Others may allow doctrinal disagreement (hate his Calvinism or his complementarianism) to turn into hate for the man. Others are driven by a genuine love for the man, Mars Hill Church, and the good name of Jesus Christ.

The bottom line here is that we need to be careful where we get our information from and examine the information first for the fruit of the Spirit, and then for content. We need to remember our own hearts are tainted by sin and our own motives are impure, and our information is limited.

Discerning His Defenders

At the other end of the spectrum are those who seem to refuse to even consider the accusations against him may be legitimate or potentially disqualifying for pastoral ministry. Again motives are difficult to discern, but are they/we driven by something as irrational as denial (I dare not believe it because of what it would do to my world…), as irresponsible as ignorance (“wait–what accusations?”), as worldly as pragmatism (too big to fail/we couldn’t go on without him), as base as pride (“if it’s true, how would that reflect upon me?”), or as … , or as … It is easy to fall into a cult-of-personality trap in our own hearts and minds. Among these auto-defenders will be those who are outraged that I dared write this post.

Our only hero that cannot fail is Jesus Christ. Our only leader that we cannot do without is Jesus Christ. In our saner moments, every Christian leader will understand these things to be true. In our more deluded-by-sinful-pride moments, we will fail to act like it.

Discerning the Accusations

It is not my intent to step through a list of specific accusations. They are easily found by Internet search, and it will be a good exercise in discernment to be able to sort through the haters and auto-defenders in order to find credible information. Here are some important questions to keep in mind as you sort through them. Consider the source. Is this coming from secular media? — You’ll find they are more concerned with things that make good headlines and are of little interest to discerning Christians (e.g. references to his biblical stance on homosexuality, the foolish things he posted long ago under another name on a church discussion board…”women as penis homes…”, etc.). Are the accusations coming from his consistent long-time critics? If so, is there substance to it or are we just talking about matters of style and personality. Or are the accusations coming from long time ministry associates and pastors who have served with him? Now we are getting close to home. Out of necessity I will make references to some well documented and credible (so far/from my perspective) accusations in a later section.

As the fog begins to clear on what is going on with Mark and MHC, begin assessing what you are discerning about the facts (you don’t have the complete picture and don’t pretend you do) with Scripture. The gifts of the Spirit are first and foremost discernible by the evident fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. –Galatians 5:22-23

Is the fruit of the Spirit on display? Or are you discerning things from the other “works of the flesh” listed in the previous verses:

… idolatry, … , enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,… , and things like these. –Galatians 5:22-23

Are the fruits of repentance evident? That leads us to the next topic.

Discerning His Apologies

I’ve only seen two of his public apologies, the “days of the angry prophet are over” one and the most recent “I’m stepping down for at least six weeks” one. I know there have been other statements of regret, etc. and I have no doubts about the sincerity of his regret. He, like all of us, has done some stupid things in his life and he genuinely regrets them.

How do we discern repentance in apologies like these? Since apologies can be given for a wide range of reasons, and none of us are mind readers, how do we discern if an apology is given for selfish reasons (to make me feel better… the guilt bugs me, it’s necessary to get things back to normal, …) or genuine contrition (I’m grieved over my sin, the evil I’ve perpetrated against God and against people, bringing reproach to Christ and His Church’s name)? Further complicating it is that this side of eternity and the culmination of our sanctification, each of our confessions or apologies are tainted by selfish pride in some way. So goes the war between the Spirit and the flesh.

Probably the clearest indicators of genuine repentance are sin acknowledgement, specificity, and brokenness. Does the person, Mark in this case, acknowledge specific actions as sins against God and against specific others? It is important for each reader with a stake in this to do this for themselves. What follows is a list of tough questions in Biblical language we can each ask after viewing his apologies. Has Mark specifically confessed to being a thief? (plagiarism and publishing of the ideas of others as his own). Did he confess to being a liar? (book “confiscation” at Strange Fire, not knowing about ResultSource). Did he confess to other specific instances of devious behavior? (use of ResultSource to get on NYT bestseller list) Did he confess to any specifics in the mistreatment of fellow servants of God now “under the bus”?

As we watched the first of these apologies, most of us wanted to just forgive and forget and be glad that was all over with and behind us, but the “mistakes were made” content of the apology unsettled me. As weeks passed and more accusations surfaced and another apology was delivered I was grieved to see the same lack of sin acknowledgement or specifics. Yes, there was regret for mistakes made and foolish acts and a sincere “I’m sorry,” but what about sin? A self-serving apology is one where it has a desired effect for one’s self. It is an apology that comes with it the expectation that everyone is obliged to forgive so that we can put all of this behind us as soon as possible. Though it confesses nothing explicitly, it is expected to cover everything so that all is considered “old news” and “already dealt with.” As humbly as it may have appeared to have been delivered, it is actually further manipulation. I don’t know Mark’s heart and I doubt that these apologies were intentionally manipulative. I also don’t believe botched apologies are unforgivable sins. If right now you are still confused about “what’s the difference,” my best advice is for you to sit down and read Psalm 51. It was penned by King David after he’d been busted. This is what repentance looks like. Isn’t it great that God is not only in the business of redeeming souls, but also in redeeming legacies? It is hard to believe that David the great sinner (seduction, adultery, murder, cover up …) is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart.” Why? Because his repentance is more famous than his sin.

The last indicator I mentioned for repentant apologies was brokenness. I’m speaking of brokenness in a positive sense of the word where pride is crushed and the fear of the Lord is evident. There is a difference between regret & sadness and true brokenness. Evidence of brokenness would be the proverbial sack cloth and ashes. Evidence to the contrary might be … well … the hiring of a public relations firm.

Discerning Forgiveness

The pop-church-culture errors of preemptive forgiveness, single-party forgiveness, and forgiveness of the unrepentant have done tremendous damage to understanding what forgiveness is. As Christians we are certainly called to be forgiving–to extend forgiveness wherever and whenever possible. We are also to love our enemies, cover the offenses of others against us, rise above offenses, and absorb them when we must and forgive them when we can. Forgiveness is two party and leads to restoration. You can no more forgive a person who doesn’t want it than accept a wedding proposal that was never offered–you may want to, but you can’t. See my web page for a more in depth explanation. Excuse the rabbit trail, but I bring this up because…

I’ve seen “I forgive my pastor” links shared on social media from MHC members. Has anyone really asked/sought your forgiveness for anything specific? Have vague statements of regret and apologies been substituted for genuine confession and humble requests for forgiveness? Of course you want to forgive, but is that really on the table right now? Please understand there is a difference between forgiveness and “blowing it off and pretending it never happened.” True forgiveness is glorious and built upon truth and grace, while the other is irresponsible presumptuousness. Pray for your pastors to be faithful, wise, courageous, and humble before God. As we’ve been reminded repeatedly, pray for your leaders. Prayer is powerful and appropriate, and it is not the only thing we are called to do sometimes. Pray, discern, and do with both boldness and humility.

Discerning Restoration

Early/unpublished drafts of this post made mention of a courageous letter signed by some elders of Mars Hill Church (the contents of which can be found here) as a good sign for the process that MHC leaders are going through. My only disagreement at the time with it was the presumption that the appropriate end game for this process is the restoration of Mark as the lead/preaching pastor. As we study the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5), what are the qualifications for a leader? What would “qualify” as a disqualifying offense? The prevailing church culture seems to think that some kind of sexual sin, a felony conviction, or perhaps having been divorced at some time in the past are the only disqualifying offenses for pastors. I hope that list sounds as absurd to you as it should have. The contemporary evangelical church culture has a baffling disparity between their low bar for leadership qualification and their high bar for disqualification. Instead, let leaderships’ fruit be examined and compared with what Scripture teaches us about elders/overseers. This isn’t just a process of looking for the one ‘biggy’ that put them over the line, it is a matter of fruit inspection and discernment. Here’s a partial list of characteristics to look for from the texts I listed above: temperate, prudent, not fond of sordid gain, respectable, not quick tempered, not self-willed, not pugnacious, gentle, uncontentious, self-controlled, sensible, a good reputation with those outside the church.

A person can certainly be restored into fellowship and good standing in the church without being returned to a previous leadership role. If he’s not been disqualified (this is not easy to discern), how long is long enough to demonstrate the fruits of repentance? Is it a self imposed time of six or more weeks?

Discerning the Resignation

Now that Mark has resigned from leadership, does that wrap things up? Is it now just a matter of waiting to see if Pastor Dave will be able to step in take his place satisfactorily? That consumerist approach is an easy one to slide into. What is Mars Hill’s leadership structure now and more importantly, what can you/we do as members/friends to help move towards a healthier Mars Hill Church? One thing is to seek to discern the remaining leaders’ shepherding and teaching gifts and faithfulness. As for the latter, be careful not to confuse charisma/style with faithfulness. I’ve always appreciated Dave’s teaching and have have confidence in his handling of the Word, but that is a discernment process that MHC members must continue as faithful Bereans. What about shepherding/oversight? What can we discern about the leadership that remains by examining Mark’s resignation letter and the Mars Hill announcement? Many of the same questions from the “Discerning His Apologies” section arise: are there any specifics provided with respect to confession of sin and repentance?… etc. The more relevant questions now that he has resigned are about remaining leadership.

Trevin Wax, a Gospel Coalition blogger, has posted a helpful but dreadfully titled1 The Mars Hill Postmortem. In his second point about church polity he refers to the Driscoll/MHC model this way:

His prescription sounded something like this: gather a group of aggressive “yes men” to run the church, implement changes, and then rubber stamp the pastor’s agenda.

Is this a fair characterization? That’s a big question. If it is, what’s left are “yes men” without their leader. As we’ve witnessed this process of Mark stepping down and resigning, who has been in charge every step of the way? More specifically, was he removed or did he remove himself? As we read and consider the resignation letter and the announcement, does this look like healthy church discipline or the resignation of a CEO from a corporation? Are there any differences expressed between the remaining leadership and Mark?

Discerning What’s Next

What is a desiring-to-be-faithful Christian to do in these difficult circumstances? So far the leading choices seem to be flee or wait. To those who have already bolted, did you do so for appropriate reasons? What’s next for you? Are you going to seek out a healthier church environment or are you going to fade back into the world with a chip on your shoulder? Let me assure you, the latter choice is not an option for a believer in Christ, and if it is your plan, declared or just what you find yourself drifting into, you are compounding the sin in this situation. You either need to return to MHC and help right the ship or find a healthy church and get plugged in.

There are a few choices here. The more irresponsible are going to stay until … uh, … I don’t know… until everybody else leaves I guess. Will you be among those so easily blown about by the wind? If you discern that you can have confidence in the faithful leadership of your church, you need to stay and work for God’s glory to help right the ship at MHC. If you discern that your church’s leadership is not healthy and is unwilling to make the necessary changes to be a healthy church, you need to find a healthy church and get yourself plugged in there. The only other choice is to “abandon organized religion” and demonstrate that your conversion was a farce in the first place as you “go out from us because you are not of us.”

Pray! Study the Word and discern. Resolve to a life of loving and serving with faithfulness and mutual submission in an imperfect but healthy church with servant leaders. Whether you stay or you go, do so with that odd-but-biblical combination of humility and boldness.

That’s my prayer and encouragement for each of you.

Notes

1The points Trevin makes about what we can learn from all of this are spot on, but the title, and his explanation for the title, give the impression that this was somehow an end to the story. To believe that, one must believe that Mark Driscoll’s position as lead/senior pastor for Mars Hill is the foremost issue. Mars Hill’s leadership problems are not fixed by his exit. There is a need for servant leaders to rise up and for members to grow in discernment, boldness, and humility.

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Confessions of a Pharisee–Hell’s Best Kept Secret

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Pharisee!

Last time I described a theological shift that came as a result of study.  Though my study was motivated by arrogance and a desire to show myself right, God had other plans and other motives.  He was continuing to humble me.  Though end times is an area of heated debate, all the views within the pale of orthodoxy still share an anticipation of the triumphant return of King Jesus.  Because of this, it didn’t have much of an impact on my day to day Christian practice.  My only caution to my dispensational friends is to avoid the escapist mentality.  God promises power to persevere rather than delivery before things get really bad.

 

Hell’s Best Kept Secret

I can’t remember who first handed me the cassette.  As I listened to it (repeatedly) I again was shaken by the truth and clarity of the message and confused by how we, the Church, had strayed so far from these truths.  This is one has to do with how we do evangelism.  Again my “have it all figured out” arrogance is struck a serious blow.  If you have some time (~50 minutes), please watch this updated (20+ years later) version of the message. (more…)

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Confessions of a Pharisee–A Happy (Prideful) Evangelical

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Pharisee!

I’ve arrived–now what?  I’ve listened through the Bible multiple times with my favorite teachers and have a solid grasp of sound (pop-evangelical) doctrine.  I’ve started and operated a ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses (open air preaching at conventions and a hotline for information–before the Internet was widespread), campus ministry, had the opportunity to do preach a series on the cults in the local church, teach a class on it in the school of ministry and teach the new believers orientation class.  I’m officially awesome in my own eyes now.  Did I mention that I had a wife at home raising four small children?  Exactly. As I was out razing hell for the Kingdom, I was failing miserably at home with my first and primary ministry–my wife and children.  It is only by the grace of God that our marriage survived.  My repentance in this area continues to this day.

A Glimpse in the Mirror–Pride Shows Its Face

While in Colorado Springs and attending Calvary Chapel of CS, I heard that the pastors were getting ready to add some men to the elder board.  Of course I was thinking they’d approach me in all of my 28 year old awesomeness.  When they didn’t I was upset.  I still remember going to pastor Justin Alfred and “confessing” my pride in being upset at not being selected.  I do think there was a little bit of real confession there, but mostly it was a “just in case you forgot to consider me–now is your chance to right this terrible wrong” pride-filled ploy.  Pride is so deceitful.  Justin was gracious, gentle, and pastoral and told me of a time when he’d felt similarly and how it was pride…  Thank you Justin!  Though for years I’d walked in pride (swam in it), I was oblivious to it.  I’m grateful God’s war on my pride began this day–I’m ashamed it took several more spiritual blows to get me engaged in the fight.

(more…)

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Confessions of a Pharisee–Labor and Delivery

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Pharisee!

How do I even approach the topic of my spiritual journey, speak of it in terms of progress, and not come across as the Pharisee I seek to expose and repent of in my own life?  Perhaps a good first step will be to confess that at each and every stage of this journey, I have arrogantly looked down on others who didn’t believe or behave exactly as I did.  Sadly, that temptation continues to this day.  One of the dangers of studying God’s Word and sitting under excellent teaching is that we learn to discern even more error (and foolishness) that goes on around us in the name of Christ.  It is a recipe for self-righteous pride, but thanks be to God as the Holy Spirit not only brings illumination of his Word, but conviction of sin in our own hearts.  Chief among these sins is pride.  I’m so grateful for God’s patience.

Over-Simplification & Labels

The labels I chose previously (MTD, pop-evangelical, … ) are admittedly over simplified.  Please understand that this is not intended to be a text book on the history of evangelicalism; these are simply phases that I have gone through in this journey.

The Journey–From MTD-Church-Goer to Pop-Evangelical

This is the more difficult to remember since it was longer ago. I think it is helpful to distinguish between mainline (theological) liberalism which rejected the Gospel due to modernist philosophies (e.g. science is the source of all knowledge/miracles are dismissed etc. …) and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) which is an unintentional loss of the Gospel.

“One generation knows the gospel, the next generation assumes the gospel, and the next generation rejects the gospel.”

–D.A. Carson

These days it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between liberal and MTD churches because they simply don’t address the substance of the Gospel message.  The important thing to remember here  is that the Gospel is absent.  Sunday gatherings are just a time of socialization and an opportunity for a preacher to give a little inspirational talk.  There is no fear of God, no preaching of sin, repentance, the cross, judgment, reconciliation, substitutionary atonement, etc.   As gently as I may–if this characterizes your Sunday AM gatherings–you are not in a Christian church.  So many of us in the South/Bible Belt were raised to be good people in Beaver Cleaver America, but we forgot that God is the one who defines goodness.  As we set our own standards for goodness, we became experts at setting the good-enough bar just below ourselves.  We’re good people because we meet the standards we made up.  Well–we don’t quite meet the standards, but we do our best.  Actually–we don’t really do our best either… but we’re good people anyway.  Ah, the deceitfulness of sin.  I totally bought into it.

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Confessions of a Pharisee–This I Believe

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Pharisee!

As I mentioned in the introductory post, I can and have come across to people as one who thinks he has it all figured out. I don’t. I’ve been humbled enough times to know that I will be humbled again. Though I have learned a lot, I’ve come to realize there is so much more to learn. I have learned much about a great God and along the way I’ve learned a lot more about myself–and how much I truly need a Savior. As I chronicle some of the things I have learned about God, I will be confessing to my own pride, self-righteousness, selfishness, and laziness throughout. In doing so, I hope that you will be able to see more clearly the incredible love, grace, and mercy of a [the] God who would put up with such a wretch as me.

 

The Journey–From MTD-Church-Goer to Pop-Evangelical to Reforming-Transforming-At-Times-Floundering-Disciple-of-Christ

God in his grace has seen fit to bring me to where I am today (far from a completed journey) via “the scenic route.” Before I go into any kind of description of “stuff I don’t believe anymore,” some of which will probably freak out some of my Christian friends, I think it is important to state explicitly what I do believe. In short I am a Bible believing Christian. I believe I have good reasons to believe that the Bible is God’s Word. To clarify further (after all, there are lots of people, including crazy ones, that claim to believe the Bible), I subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed (see below), and I think the The Gospel Coalition’s Confessional Statement is also a good summary of my beliefs. If you care to dive deeper, the Elder’s Doctrinal Statement of Desert Springs Church (where I now serve as one of the elders/pastors) is even more thorough. Since I am more concerned about criticism from “the right” (due to the things to follow) I would only ask that my critic first read through the affirmations on the confessional statement and peruse my website before coming to the conclusion that I am a liberal (theologically) or hold to a watered down Christianity. I am, no doubt, wrong about some things and appreciate correction, but I ask that you be open to the idea that the things that follow are corrections rather that falls-from-the-truth, instances of purging my religion of cultural influence rather than giving in to error. (more…)

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Confessions of a Pharisee–Introduction

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Pharisee!

For years I have been considering posting about this.  The idea has evolved a little, but I think the time has come.

The most hurtful thing I’ve ever been called is a Pharisee.  Though they weren’t all hypocrites, ever since Jesus’ harshest words were uttered towards them, the term has come to be synonymous with self-righteous-legalist-hypocrite.  To have been called this, by someone I genuinely love and respect, ellicited a big ouch and time of self-examination.  To my shame I’ve found there to be truth to the accusation and I am grateful that God loves me enough to discipline me. I’m hoping a series combining public repentance and journaling my spiritual journey may be helpful.

This series (#confessions) will not just be the product of morbid introspection.   I have friends from different eras of life (high school, military, …) and current relationships (church, work, theatre, …) who may have questions they may feel awkward asking.  I am admittedly a “strange bird” so I can’t blame anyone for wondering.

On being called a pharisee–

As I’ve already admitted there is some real truth to it.  In my dealings with him (my original accuser) and the ministry he oversees, I’ve offered some encouragement/correction that was not well-received at all.  While I believe the content of what I was telling him was sound, the attitude with which I did it was tainted with ugly pride.  At times I can come across as one who thinks he has it all figured out.  I don’t.  Please forgive me for when I’ve done this–and please bring it to my attention when you see me falling into it.  Please pray for true humility for me and the ability to discern boldness in gospel proclamation and defense (also important!) from a prideful desire to look smart or win an argument.    Also–that I my guard against false humility, the most deceptive form of pride.  Ugh.

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Christian Witness “Blindsided”

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Have you ever wondered why pop-evangelicalism is so impotent when it comes to affecting the hearts and minds of the culture around us?  Have you ever wondered why “Christian Bookstores” are so full of fluff?  Rachel Evans’ recent blog post (Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry) does a great job of explaining the broader problem as well as expose one of the specific causes–expressed in the title.

The following excerpt is the meat of her post (emphasis hers).  It’s insightful and helpful to any willing to listen.

Christian bookstores have developed a reputation for producing a highly sanitized customer experience, purging from their shelves any language, content, or theology that doesn’t meet their uber-conservative standards.  Walk into your local LifeWay and you will find plenty of Precious Moments statues, specialty Bibles, Veggie Tale movies, and Thomas Kinkade prints…but little trace of art or literature that intrigues, agitates, and inspires—as true art should!  The Christian bookstore experience is, in a word, safe. But safe is not how Christians are called to live, and safe is not what artists who are Christians are called to create.  In fact, based on LifeWay’s own standards, the Bible itself—which includes profanity, violence, and sex—should be banned from the shelves.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that the problem of sanitized Christian bookstores extends far beyond the inventory on the shelves to create an entire Christian subculture that is so sanitized and safe it often fails to produce art that is relevant to our culture or our lives. [Evans] (more…)

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Forgiveness and the Christian

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Two very bright men have written on this topic and I encourage you to read what they have written on the subject first.  Afterwards I’ll comment on these issues and explore the Scriptures further.


The Sin of Forgiveness (a.k.a. “When Forgiveness is a Sin”)— by Dennis Prager

“The bodies of the three teen-age girls shot dead last December by
a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., were not yet
cold before some of their schoolmates hung a sign announcing, “We
forgive you, Mike!” They were referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the
killer.”

(read more)

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